Consumer Insights on Bank Fees

I’ve been a Wachovia customer since 1985. In its prime, Wachovia was a well run financial institution with a CEO, John Medlin, who didn’t believe in lending money to people who couldn’t pay it back and would not allow bad debt expense be greater than 0.5%.

Not long after I began banking with Wachovia, they bought First Atlanta, and their credit card portfolio, because First Atlanta didn’t want to be bought by Nations’ Bank, now Bank of America. This was not the ideal acquisition target for Wachovia in that First Atlanta had different philosophies about lending. As Wachovia acquired First Atlanta’s credit card portfolio, they allowed bad debt expense to rise to 1% — still a very conservative number in this day and age.

In September 2001, First Union “merged” with Wachovia. “Merged” is a euphemism for “bought” since 80% of the executive positions went to First Union executives and the more conservative Wachovia executives were not retained. First Union needed to rebrand itself with the prestigious Wachovia name to address all of the negative equity that had accrued with their aggressive, and frequently thoughtless, takeover of several regional banks.

In May 2006, Wachovia/First Union acquired Golden West Financial (dba World Savings Bank) with little due diligence consistent with previous First Union acquisitions. Due to the number of bad mortgages World Savings Bank had made, Wachovia/First Union ended up suffering write-downs for more than the bank paid for Golden West.

In December 2008, the government forced the sale of Wachovia to Wells Fargo rather than shutting the bank down. As such, I am now a Wachovia and Wells Fargo customer.

I liked what I read about Wells Fargo and decided I would stay with them. In the 25 years I banked with Wachovia, I never had to pay a fee. Now, in the last two weeks, Wells Fargo has hit me with a $5.95 fee for downloading information into Quicken and $2 for check images.

I’ve been downloading information from Wachovia into Quicken for five (?) years and have truncated checks for that long as well. Now Wells Fargo wants to charge me? Supposedly I was informed of both of these in my statement. However, I missed those notifications even though I am one of the 55% of bank customers that do open their bank statements monthly.

Earlier this week, I received a promotional e-mail from Wells Fargo urging me to sign up for electronic statements to save the environment, and them some money. I responded by saying I’d be happy to sign up for electronic statements if they’d waive the download fee — no response.

I suggest Wells Fargo, and every other financial institution committed to improving their bottom-line and their bonus pool by increasing fee revenue, be at least as aggressive communicating forthcoming fee changes, and what the customer can do to avoid/minimize them, as you are promoting your services. You should also look at the lifetime value of your customers. Do you really want to charge me $8 in fees when I’m paying you multiples of that in interest? Put your customers before your shareholders or your shareholders may be disappointed in the long run.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I did call Wachovia/Wells Fargo last week to complain about the $5.95 download fee and was told that’s the new policy and everyone had to pay it. When I called today to inquire about the $2 check image fee, I was allowed to discontinue receive check images and told that if I was over 50 that I could upgrade to a Crown Classic account and the download fee would be waived. I need to order new checks. These used to be free but the one’s that used to be free are $5.95. I’m going to wait and see if they’re free to Crown Classic account holders. This wouldn’t be so hard if financial institutions would put their customers first.

What have been your experiences with bank fees over the past couple of years?

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About Insights From Analytics

Integrated marketing professional who generates insights from analytics to increase revenue. Daily blog now resides at www.insightsfromanalytics.com/blog.
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