Some Fees Are Best Left Uncharged

What kinds of fees could a diabolical financial institution come up with?

May 23, 2011

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post (motto: a unique blend of journalism and snarky comments) concerning what the author, Mark Sunshine, considered to be a bank fee gone nuts. He lambasted a bank for charging a foreign ATM fee—comparing it to charging consumers for not using the bank.

Besides having one of the silliest last names I’ve heard since my high-school physical education instructor (Mr. Jim Teacher), Sunshine’s revelation was a bit off the mark. As you know, a foreign ATM fee is common and offsets charges paid to the ATM owner.

But Sunshine got me thinking that the average consumer is about as observant as a teenage boy in a room full of chores. Specifically, make it small and obscure and nobody will notice.

So what kinds of fees could a diabolical financial institution come up with? Consider these:

  • I forgot fee: $2 for forgetting your home banking password. This fee increases to $5 if it’s the same password you’ve used since 2008.
  • I really forgot fee: $5 if you can’t remember the answer to your security question; $25 if the question is “What’s the name of your first-born child?”
  • Family squabble fee: $10 if you and your family make a scene in the lobby worthy of an appearance on “The Jerry Springer Show.”
  • Three-foot fee: $3 for parking more than three feet away from the drive-thru so you must open your door and wedge your body out to get to the depository tube.
  • The 559 fee: $5.59 for coming in at 5:59 on a Friday night (if left to staff, this infraction would mandate capital punishment).
  • Whining fee: $1 per whine about something we have no control over (weather, Congress, your family).
  • Cute teller fee: $1 if you mention how cute the teller is; $5 if you happen to do so in the presence of your significant other.
  • Sorting fee: $10 per pound for the extra bottle caps, paper clips, and other material you just dumped into our very unhappy coin sorter.
  • Wrong line fee: $5 if you wait umpteen minutes in the drive-thru when the lobby is a ghost town, and then make some smart-aleck comment about it.
  • Can-you-hear-me-now fee: $5 for allowing the entire world in on your cell phone conversation while you’re waiting in line.
  • Nanosecond fee: $2 for not waiting 14 nanoseconds after pulling up to the drive-thru before blasting your horn because I didn’t say “good morning” quickly enough for you.
  • Day-care fee: $10 per hour for me to watch your little urchins rampage through the branch like pirates after a long year at sea.
  • Graffiti fee: $10 for writing on the electronic signature pad with your own (permanent ink) pen.
  • Good-ole-day fee: $3.50 for telling me how much better the credit union used to be back in your day, and that we’ve sure relaxed our employment standards lately.
  • Song-in-my-head fee: $2 for humming, tapping, or otherwise infusing into my head an ’80s song I loathe. Country songs add a 10% surcharge. Disco requires one to five years, hard labor.

If members see value in a service with a fee, generally you won’t hear much flack. But charges based on things members don’t do—like not using an account or activating a card—elicit the greatest negative reactions…and bad press from Mr. Sunshine.

JAMES COLLINS is president/CEO at O Bee CU, Tumwater, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740.