Standard Bank has introduced a new fee for business current accounts - a cheque deposit fee - effective from 1st January 2011.
I visited my business banker at Standard Bank yesterday and raised the topic of this new fee for cheque deposits into business accounts (and I stress "new"). It was a fairly revealing discussion.
Apparently the managers were gathered together in meetings and informed of this new fee last year. He says when the announcement was made that they were introducing this fee, the room went very quiet. They're aware that it could be trouble.
It also seems Standard Bank is pretty keen to keep the introduction of this new fee as low-profile as possible, which I guess explains why I didn't get the usual annual notification of fee changes with my bank statements as has happened in the past. When I raised the lack of notice, he said they didn't really want to draw attention to the new fee. Apparently we should all be aware that there is an annual increase in fees anyway and Standard Bank believes that publishing the new rates card on their website is enough notice.
I'm sure all tree huggers are delighted, but I suggested that the banking ombudsman might not be quite as satisfied with their approach.
We tossed a few other points around - the cost of processing cheques, security and risk issues... basicly a debate around "justification" for the new charge.
The bottom line is banks would like to see the end of cheques. I agree. They're way too much trouble. Let's get rid of them, but this is not the way to do it.
The extra financial costs of paying by cheque is doing a pretty good job of thinning out cheque usage already. It's only a matter of time before they become scarce enough to simply discontinue as a method of payment.
My parting shot was that I've been a good client of Standard Bank for a long time. The staff are pleasant to deal with and overall the bank has been reliable and trustworthy. When it comes to costs, none of the big 4 really stand out as being much different from the others overall anyway. I have never really seen a good reason to look elsewhere - until now.
I view this sneaky approach as a serious breach of trust and it brings a significant new cost into the mix - at least for me. I still like the frontline people, but I don't trust the attitude of top management anymore. They have become way to arrogant.
Anyway, I don't think businesses should just let the matter lie. Standard Bank is trying to sneak this through and are hoping the other banks will follow.
For those of us banking with Standard Bank, I have a couple of suggestions.
First - go into the bank, see your business manager and let him or her know you strongly object to them introducing this new fee - at all, let alone without proper notice.
Bodies count, people.
Don't leave it to someone else.
Don't leave it to a business body to voice your displeasure for you.
Queues of people wanting to see their manager and tying up just 15 minutes of his/her time each will not go unnnoticed.
The managers are wondering what might happen. I suggest the sooner they find out, the better.
I also suggest it isn't just Standard Bank clients that are on the line here. If the business world just rolls over and plays dead, I (and I suspect my business manager at Standard Bank) am pretty confident the other big banks will introduce this charge too.
And if that isn't incentive enough for you, my business manager refunded the cheque deposit fees charged to my account so far. Any future ones I'm expected to live with, but I did get something back. If you don't try, you don't get.
Second, I suggest you take a close look at options. At R12.50 per cheque, it doesn't take many cheques to add up to more than minimum charge for a business account elsewhere. Moving a business account is not easy, but if Standard Bank does not drop this charge, I'm opening an account specifically for cheque deposits elsewhere. I'll transfer the money to my Standard account in lump sums - if I need too.
And all my new business will be going elsewhere too. Who knows - if they treat me nicely, they might end up with all my business in the end.
Finally - for any banking types reading this - I face one final dilemma - which bank to choose.
Here's my offer -
The first bank to run an advert in mainstream media that they do not charge their business account holders for cheque deposits gets my business.
I don't know how far this message will reach. You don't know how much that advert might be worth.
Standard Bank wants to play dice? Let's play dice, gentlemen.