Home truths about banks' business slug

No one enjoys paying bank fees. Whether you've been charged for overdrawing an account, withdrawing money from a foreign ATM or even just maintaining a deposit account, they are an annoyance.

No one enjoys paying bank fees. Whether you've been charged for overdrawing an account, withdrawing money from a foreign ATM or even just maintaining a deposit account, they are an annoyance.

When the big four are also on track to make a whopping $26 billion in profits this year, that adds insult to injury.

But as much as we might dislike bank fees, it's worth acknowledging there has been some good news in this area. As long as you're not a business customer, that is.

Recent figures from the Reserve Bank show the income banks make from charging households fees declined in 2012 for the third year in a row.

The banks made a healthy $4.1 billion in fees paid by households, and the fall was only 0.3 per cent. But it was a fall, nonetheless.

So why have they dropped?

Statistics show it has not simply been a benevolent act by the industry. And these reductions have been more than offset by higher charges to business customers.

The main reason household bank fees have come down is deposit fees.

Since 2008, the annual-fee income from transaction deposit accounts has nearly halved, falling by more than $1 billion to $1.05 billion. Credit-card fees have come in slightly, as have home-loan fees and "exception" fees charged when people overdraw their accounts.

But the biggest decline has come in deposit fees. Why has this happened?

According to the Reserve, it's a result of competition by the banks to get their hands on household savings.

Since the global financial crisis, banks have depended more and more on the stable funding from deposits to fund their lending activity.

To attract this money, they've had to pay higher interest rates to savers and cut their fees. It's good news for consumers - and so is the decline in credit-card and other fees.

But as always, there's a catch.

While households have indeed benefited from lower fees, business customers are paying far more.

Fees paid by business jumped 7 per cent to $7.3 billion last year, and have surged by a quarter since 2009. During the same period, the value of outstanding business loans increased by just 2.7 per cent, figures from the Reserve show.

Banks argue the increase is because there was a substantial lift in lending to big customers last year, and fee income jumped after the global financial crisis because companies needed banks to get finance.

But others suspect banks have also found a way to keep fee revenue growing without attracting too much public outrage.

Fees release me

Related Articles