IBJOpinion

DUNN: Banking on daily fairness to customers

Peter Dunn
December 18, 2010
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Viewpoint Peter DunnDear Banking Industry,

I am very disappointed in you. 

Oddly enough, my disappointment has little to do with the recent foreclosure crisis. While “robo-signing” up to 8,000 foreclosures per day is arguably deplorable, I’m more concerned about how you treat your average customer on a daily basis.

But first things first. I believe in free markets. I believe in capitalism. I also believe you have the right to pay your employees whatever you wish to pay them. I don’t believe their compensation is any of our business.

However, I also believe banks have a responsibility to their depositors first and their shareholders second. For it is our money that you borrow to lend to others.

You have been forced to change based on government regulation, but unfortunately the direction of change that you chose has been the wrong one. You continue to hide fees and encourage irresponsible spending, all while touting your “free” checking accounts.

So I simply ask of you this: Please charge us all monthly fees for our checking accounts. Yes, I realize you make money on our checking account deposits because you invest and lend them out just like our savings account deposits. Therefore, you are able to offer us “free” checking in exchange for the use of our money. In essence, you have been exchanging your “free” banking services for the use of our checking deposits. I agree with you, though, that this isn’t a fair trade. Your services are worth more than your access to our checking deposits.

In return for this reliable, renewable and consistent income stream, you must agree to the following demands:

• Stop charging consumers for balance inquiries. The thought of being charged to check on the money I’m letting you hold for me is ridiculous. 

• Stop inducing wild and impulsive spending. Many checking accounts are provided without fees these days as long as the customer uses the debit card associated with the account a minimum number of times per month. Why would you induce your customer to spend money? How does inducing our spending help us as we try to improve our financial lives?

• Don’t charge people for savings accounts. It takes very little infrastructure to maintain a savings account. In addition, technology has made the cost of hosting savings accounts even less for you. Thus, your insistence on charging Americans for letting you borrow their money is simply gross. This isn’t a complaint about the interest being credited to depositors. This is a complaint about not being our true financial partner. Many of you charge fees only if the account falls below a certain arbitrary balance, but people with balances that fall below your arbitrary levels are discouraged from saving by these fees.

• Stop charging minors for checking and savings accounts. Charging children to save money is flat-out wrong. They don’t use your bank services, they simply are trying to accumulate money for the future. 

• Stop marketing irresponsible acts as convenience. Your advertisements that feature people sending you a text message to obtain their balance before making a major purchase is insulting. If people don’t know if they have enough money to make a purchase, should they really be making a purchase? These technologies of convenience aren’t financial tools, they are spending tools.

The most important point is this: These changes I’m suggesting should not be a result of regulation. Forcing you to change based on further regulation would be a mistake. The regulations you have already been subject to have led to this “creative” fee structure. I’m asking you to stop tricking us with fees—simply because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t bleed us slowly while trying to convince us that your banking services are free. Just be honest and charge us for checking accounts.

Peter Dunn

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Dunn is an independent, Indianapolis-based personal finance expert. He is the author of two books, “60 Days to Change” and “What Your Dad Never Taught You About Budgeting.”

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