Tuesday, May 03, 2011

If we can't screw our customers, well, who can we screw?

I heard on the news this morning that a big-time national bank has scrapped its plans to raise its fee for using their ATMs by out of system customers from $3 to $5. They evidently did a test, and people stopped using their ATMs. For $5, people are willing to drive to an ATM in their own banking system -- the cost outweighs the convenience of using the nearer ATM for an out of system charge. Imagine that.

Of course, I remember when the banks were trying to encourage the use of ATMs. It was pretty obvious. If they only could get people to use ATMs, they could dispense with hiring tellers some of whom were actually paid more than minimum wage. Providing ATMs relieved the banks of the need to offer customer service.

Yeah, I can remember going into a bank and standing in a long line waiting for my turn at the teller's place, and while waiting having a bank employee come up and offer to show me how to use an ATM so I didn't have to stand in line so long. But I knew how to work the ATM; it was raining out there and the ATM was not sheltered. Thanks for your offer, lady, but this is Oregon and it rains, here. How about getting your sweet little banker butt behind the counter and serving customers instead of pushing them outdoors into the rain.

Now that the teller staffs have all been successfully reduced in favor of ATMs, the banks want to act as if the ATMs are extra special conveniences that the bank offers at great expense and difficulty. Accordingly, we should be grateful for ATMs and willing to pay extra to use an ATM services if we aren't one of their loyal customers.

Oh, bless you, bankers! If I couldn't do my bank business at a machine without human warmth or understanding, I just don't know what I would do.

Loyalty. Yeah, right. One of my banks reminds me from time to time about the great deal on a bank card they would like me to have. I would be charged 0% interest on charges for the first 6 months. Of course, if instead of borrowing, I loan the bank money by leaving it on deposit, what do they pay me? Maybe 1% annually. What do they do with my money? Lend it out to credit card holders for 0% interest for the first 6 months, and then 20+% on the unpaid balance thereafter. And they charge those credit card holders an ATM access fee on top of it, all using my money at 1%!

Yeah, I'm happy to accept their 1% on my deposits so that they can make 20%. That 1% they pay makes me feel like they really appreciate me and not like a sucker at all.

Sounds like a license for banks to print money, doesn't it? Laws have been passed to permit them to do business in this fashion. But then, even with this sort of advantage it's possible for banks to screw up. And when they do, what happens? The government bails them out, using guess-whose money.

I think they may be in cahoots.

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