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0800 Bankline Report Released

Bank fees are excessive and banks don't give consumers enough information about the fees they impose.

That was the view of many callers to an 0800 information service called Bankline, set up by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs last year.

The Ministry's report on Bankline was released today by Acting Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Anderton.

"Consumers want a clearer explanation of how bank fees reflect costs. They want itemised fees on bank statements. They want specific fees for transactions to be fully disclosed before the transaction, including overdraft honour fees and fees for using another bank’s ATM," Jim Anderton said.

Bankline received 1358 calls, with the majority about fees and service.

"Many callers perceived a lack of competition between banks when it came to fees and service," Jim Anderton said.

"Overall consumers were suspicious that fees charged did not reflect costs, and many callers commented on the lack of transparency in fee charging.

"Most callers considered the fees that banks charge are excessive. They said fees represented a high cost to small business owners, low-income earners and beneficiaries. Some self-declared middle and high income earners also commented on the high cost of fees.

"Many consumers regarded some types of fees to be particularly unfair. These include fees for depositing money and charges for an inactive account. In addition consumers noted that they were often paying multiple fees for one transaction.

"There were a number of complaints about service. Some callers perceive a decline in personal service, saying that banks no longer value customer loyalty.

"For example, consumers could once rely on banks to honour their cheques if they had money in other accounts. Now, cheques are often bounced and the consumer is charged. Many callers felt their bank had not notified them of this change of approach.
Other concerns with bank's service included long waiting times, bank staff being selective about which calls they return, and consumers not being able to access their local branches by telephone.

Some callers also complained that bank staff were not accessible and did not have complete knowledge of bank systems and products.

"One caller even noted that no one in his bank was able to explain to him what a management fee was. Banks should train staff adequately to have a comprehensive knowledge of bank products and keep customers fully informed."

Rural, elderly, disabled and suburban customers complained that the closure of rural and suburban branches has increased the cost and inconvenience of banking.

The report says consumers suggested banks could address some concerns about fees by:

* Providing the option of having bank fees deducted as they are incurred

* Itemising fees on statements

* Ensuring bank staff explain fees before over-the-counter transactions are made

* Providing easily accessible information about fees at branches

* Allowing consumers to choose whether they want to be part of an overdraft honour fee system or not

* Offering fee exemptions to people with disabilities.

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