Business customers 'gouged' on fees

Banks have been accused of gouging business customers, after bank fees paid by the sector surged by a quarter over the past three years despite minimal growth in borrowing.

Banks have been accused of gouging business customers, after bank fees paid by the sector surged by a quarter over the past three years despite minimal growth in borrowing.

The total value of bank fees paid in Australia rose 4.3 per cent to $11.4 billion last year, the Reserve Bank said on Thursday.

While charges paid by households fell slightly, to $4.1 billion, this was more than offset by strong growth in fees from business.

Fee income from business jumped by 7 per cent to $7.3 billion, and has surged by a quarter since 2009. Over the same period, the value of outstanding business loans increased by just 2.7 per cent, figures from the Reserve show.

The increase in fees paid by business, which the Reserve described as "substantial", was attacked by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The peak body's chief economist, Greg Evans, said banks appeared to have increased their fees well beyond the underlying cost of delivering services to businesses, and they were using business customers to subsidise lower fees for households.

"Account service fees and loan review fees are paid with no benefit to customers and they are becoming a lucrative and growing revenue source for these institutions," Mr Evans said.

"Ultimately competitive pressure should be the answer but in its absence lenders are exerting significant pricing power."

The Australian Bankers' Association said fee revenue from business had risen over the past year because of a rise in lending, especially to larger companies.

Banks' fees from business customers had increased sharply after the financial crisis because companies had turned to banks as a source of finance, it added.

It also highlighted the fall in household bank fees, which have dropped in each of the past three years to $4.1 billion in 2012. Last year the pace of the reduction slowed, with a fall of 0.3 per cent.

Credit cards were biggest source of fee income from households, with consumers spending $1.3 billion on credit card fees.

Home loan and deposit fees fell, while there was solid growth in "exception" fees - which can be levied on overdrawn accounts.

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