Jewish World Review April 4, 2000 / 28 Adar II, 5760
Any good reason this
shouldn't be called
BRADENTON, Fla. At some point during this
long trip I've been on, I passed a bank that had
posted a come-on sign next to the road.
This was clearly designed to draw potential
customers. And what was the bank dangling in
front of the public? Was it a free toaster if you
opened a savings account? Free dinnerware?
Tickets to a ballgame, or dinner at a restaurant?
Nah. Those are the kinds of things banks used to
offer customers. Those days are long gone.
This sign-- and evidently it was not intended as a
joke, apparently passing motorists were supposed
to look at the sign, get all bug-eyed at the
lavishness of the offer, and screech off the road and
into the bank's parking lot-- said:
"Free Teller Visits."
Yep. It has come to this. The idea that if you walk
into a bank to give them your money, or to take out
some of your money, and the bank won't charge
you for dealing with the teller, apparently has
become so unusual that banks that allow you to
deal with their tellers for free are now using it as a
What I'm going to write may come as a shock to
some younger Americans-- but for many years in
this country, it did not cost you anything to go to a
bank. The banks were grateful for your business--
they gave you kitchen appliances to thank you for
allowing them to hold on to your money. Because
the tellers really didn't provide you with anything
when you came in-- they either took your money,
or gave you part of your money back from your
account; either way, it wasn't their money, it was
yours-- of course they would not charge you for
the minute or so you spent with them. Charge you?
Then came the modernization of the banking
industry. The ATMs went up-- which allowed
banks to get rid of many of their tellers. When
customers complained that they did not like having
to pay an ATM fee, bankers said that the fee was
for the convenience of it all.
At the same time, though, some banks began
charging their customers a fee for carrying out a
teller-assisted transaction. So if, in an effort to
avoid paying an ATM fee, you rode the bus to
your bank, stood in line, and then did your banking
with a human teller, you might find out that you
were being charged for this, too.
We did a little survey last week of banks in 20
states. Some allow their customers to deal with
tellers for free, many others do not, some limit
transactions with a teller to six or eight a month
before a fee kicks in. Different kinds of accounts
carry different restrictions.
The most astonishing thing is that the
pay-to-bank-with-a-teller fees apply not just to
withdrawals, but to deposits. So if, at one of these
banks, you take your money in to give to the teller,
that teller will remove your money from your
hands-- and then charge you for it.
A spokeswoman at the American Bankers Assn. in
Washington said there are no overall regulations
about whether banks can charge for teller visits.
"The industry has moved from your parents' bank,
which was basic checking and savings," she said.
Apparently so-- with sometimes stupid results. In
Chicago last week, Bank One Corp. announced
that it will eliminate 5,100 jobs-- 6 percent of its
workforce. At the same time it announced that it
has paid its former chairman, who left in the midst
of turmoil, a parting fee of $10.3 million in cash. It
also announced that it will pay him a pension of $3
million a year.
Bank One Corp. is one of the banking companies
that charges its customers teller fees on some kinds
of accounts. So they're getting rid of 5,100 people,
they're paying their departed chairman $10.3
million in cash and $3 million a year on top of that--
and they're asking some of their customers to pay
them a fee for going to a teller window. This really
sounds like the sort of outfit to whom you want to
hand over your money for safekeeping.
In this atmosphere, it shouldn't be surprising that
some banks are putting up "Free Teller Visits"
signs, as if customers should swoon in gratitude at
such a concept. Banking officials say this issue is
really quite complex.
It doesn't need to be. There's a clear and simple
way to look at it:
Any bank that charges any of its customers a penny
to deal with a teller doesn't deserve to have any
(And any bank that extends that policy to deposits
should be arrested for theft. Even robbers on the
street, when they take your money, don't charge
you an extra fee after you've given them your
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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