I was recently advising a friend about how he “must” have the wrong bank account type, as his account is sometimes getting charged $9 for scheduled internet transfers when they fail.  I’ve been internet banking since it was invented (it feels like it), so I’m very comfortable and even an advocate of its safety, simplicity, and economy – when used properly.

He banks with Westpac, and so do I, so I offered to show him how it’s really done and to help him avoid these ridiculous fees he was paying – obviously due to bad advice.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was wrong, and not only that, but I was liable for these fees too – whether the transfer is honored by the bank or not!

You schedule a regular payment to someone else’s account on the internet.  Zero wages or employee assistance required.  The time for transfer comes, and the computer compares your balance to the amount required.  The computer, in less than a second, says, “If balance available is less than balance required, then send Transaction Failed electronic message to account holder, else process scheduled transaction.”  Again, zero wages or employee assistance required.  Clearly, there are no variable overheads incurred by these mammoth corporate citizens, certainly not any justifying a $9 fee as charged by Westpac, or $6 as quoted to me by ANZ.

What’s interesting is the increasing annual profits the banks post each year.  This is an absolute rebuttal to any argument that they might offer about the need to develop IT infrastructure or the fixed overheads of running and maintaining internet banking services.  I’m not against banks or any other businesses making astronomical profits.  I am against immoral profiteering and price gouging just because you can, and without reasonable justification or value offered in exchange.  I challenge the banks to find an objective person who appreciates the value in paying $9 for a failed transaction even if the bank doesn’t honor it.

Contrast this to NAB’s customer-focussed position, found on their web site: “Reference fee = A fee charged to your NAB account when a debit (eg purchase, withdrawal or direct debit) results in the account being overdrawn or remains overdrawn and subsequent customer initiated debits are paid. Note: From 1 October 2009, NAB customers will not be charged a reference fee if they overdraw their personal transaction and savings accounts.”

So if NAB can maintain old fashioned pricing like I THOUGHT I was getting at Westpac and ANZ, why can’t Westpac and ANZ?  Maybe they just don’t want our business…