Like most people, I regularly use ATMs to obtain cash. Yesterday, I used one from TD Bank in Manhattan and was charged $3.00 after withdrawing just 50 bucks. For those of you who aren’t good with numbers, that transaction was a 6 percent cost to me. Quite candidly, it pissed me off. And now, for no other reason than this, I’m annoyed with this specific bank.
ATM fees are nothing new. And, these annoying fees that banks charge to consumers have risen steadily over the last 20 years. But, this issue has been a contentious one forever, as well. I remember when we represented the PLUS banking network in the early 90s (back in my J. Walter Thompson days). The number one issue keeping those banking executives up at night was how to show consumer rights groups, legislators and the constituents they represent that ATMs provide real value. And thus, those nasty fees are entirely fair.
The main problem is that none of the arguments they put forward then worked. Just like the messages that are being emitted now, they continue to fall on deaf ears. And, this creates real legislative and reputational problems every few years when the issue becomes hot again. If you read some of the comments/positions that a few banks take, one can understand why.
I read an article in which a Chase spokesperson (my bank is Chase) said (I’m paraphrasing) that the ATM surcharge fee supports real value that the bank provides through its 11,000 U.S. ATMs to non banking customers. (Chase, like many banks doesn’t charge its own customers these fees.) So, if I read this correctly, would Chase close down these ATMs, or continue not charging its customers for ATM usage if non customers decided to forgo using these services from Chase forever? I highly doubt it. Chase needs to have ATMs available to me and the millions of other customers for convenience. It just knows that everyone else represents a huge money making audience, especially in this tough economy.
Another bank issued a statement early this year that it only charges ATM fees to those who aren’t checking customers. And, this is a real reason why those who aren’t customers should really think about becoming ones. Are you kidding me? Talk about a bizarre, strong armed sales tactic that will not resonate with the average consumer.
My point in all of this is that ATM fees are bad news from a reputational/image standpoint. Most banks have realized this and at least stopped charging their customers for the pleasure of using their machines. I’d like to acknowledge the few (though) who learned that they can’t win this PR war and have stopped charging fees all together, or in only very specific instances. These banks understand that there are millions of people who everyday have the same experience I had yesterday. And, they clearly value their images a great deal.
I realize that ATM surcharges represent a very healthy revenue stream for the banking industry. This is not a simple issue. But, as we’ve seen over the last nine months, the difference between a financial services company having a positive versus negative reputation, now takes on an entirely new reality as to whether that organization can survive (or at least thrive) or become part of a growing banking graveyard.