Fee increases make bank customers victims of bank robbery

Audrey Williams, unhappy with TD Bank fee increases

‘As through this world I’ve travelled
I’ve met some funny men.
Some rob you with a six gun,
Some with a fountain pen.”

- Woody Guthrie -

ALL BANK ROBBERS DON’T USE GUNS. Brenda Denney is one of millions of Canadian bank customers who know a stroke of a pen can be enough. “Raising their fees just because they feel like it is like the banks are robbing us. It's like bank robbery from the inside out,” she says.

TD Bank recently sent Audrey Williams a letter announcing increases to their fees. She got angry: first, because she had no choice but to pay up; second, because the banks are raking in billions in record profits.

“So what is this about?” she asked. “This is just about trying to get people when they’re already down. Kicking them one more time, harder.”

Gouging is not helping

Williams and other customers with TD, CIBC, Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank recently contacted the CBC investigative news show Go Public with complaints about increases, or planned increases, to banking fees for a range of accounts, products and services. They all question the timing.

Duff Conacher says the banks are jacking up fees just because they can.

Conacher is co-founder of Democracy Watch, a citizen group calling for government accountability and corporate responsibility. He says the banks have simply ignored a year-old request from the prime minister to do more to help Canadians.

“Gouging them is not helping them,” says Conacher.  “It’s about time he [Justin Trudeau] and the finance minister stepped in.”

‘A whole shopping cart of money grabs’

Williams says TD’s changes to its “preferred chequing” accounts are “exorbitant and totally unfair.” The bank is raising the minimum balance required for avoiding fees from $2,000 to $5,000.

“In an environment where people have lost their jobs, they’re on furlough, they’re trying to get CERB payments, who’s going to be able to keep $5,000 in their bank account to not get service fees?” she asked.

That higher fee will kick in for every transaction, including when customers use their debit card; this after Canadians were urged to avoid cash transactions in a bid to curb the coronavirus.

TD is also increasing fees for things like overdraft protection on some chequing accounts and wire payments.

“It’s a whole shopping cart of money grabs,” said Williams. “Just increase to increase to increase.”

Widespread shock and anger

Other frustrated TD customers reached out to Go Public, too.

“It seems corporately immoral … given the economic ramifications of the pandemic,” wrote one customer who said he is on fixed income disability benefit.

“People are struggling,” wrote another. “I’m just shocked.”

Robert Gerl, a firefighter from Oakville, Ont., complained to CIBC: “I just thought, especially now, the gall of it. It’s beyond comprehension.”  

Longtime BMO customer Kisan Gunjal wrote  to the bank’s ombudsman: “This is really not the right time for the banks to raise any kind of fees. We have to insert the ethics part.”

Banks rake in billions

The fee increases come after each of the big five banks reported billions in profit for this year’s first quarter, profits that were higher than the same period last year for all five and which exceeded analysts’ expectations.

It all fuels the need for more oversight, according to Conacher. His organization has collected almost 80,000 signatures on a petition urging Ottawa to make the banks do more to help Canadians during the pandemic.

“Banking is ... as essential as heating and electricity in terms of living in today’s society,” he said. “And the government should be regulating it like it’s an essential service. Which means ensure they serve everyone fairly … and that gouging is prohibited.”

“Someone needs to look at what they’re doing and put them in check,” says Williams. “I’m shocked and I’m saddened that they care so little for their customers. That we are just piles of money to them.”

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