Bank ATMs Take Deposits, Spit out Cash, Demand Fees Analysts Say Unhappy Bank Customers Will Not Be Able to Avoid Fees

By Amy Kaslow, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 9, 1995 | Go to article overview

Bank ATMs Take Deposits, Spit out Cash, Demand Fees Analysts Say Unhappy Bank Customers Will Not Be Able to Avoid Fees


Amy Kaslow, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


BACK in the days when waiting for a teller often meant a long line that snaked through the bank, at least the transaction was free. Now, automation has changed all that. Customers are queuing up for machines that gobble up deposits, spit out cash, and print balances.

But while today's lines are shorter, consumers' bank costs are higher. Given the explosion in electronic services, more Americans can expect to be affected.

Consider this projection from the Ernst & Young accounting firm: The number of automated teller machines in the United States will increase 50 percent by 1997, to 135,000. Automated phone-service calls for account information, now 140 million per month, will soar to 250 million. And technology spending at US banks will jump by 21 percent.

Banks are looking for ways to defray costs. Take NationsBank, one of the top five institutions, which is slated to hike fees July 1. Customers using the bank's ATMs or 800 number will pay higher monthly account costs. "Why wait 30 days for your next bank statement?" asks a sign next to ATMs. "This ATM can give it to you in 30 seconds for only $2."

At any number of US banks, ATM fees can be as high as $1.50 per use and phone queries roughly one-third that amount.

Convenience devotees are protesting. "It's a major rip-off because it's my money on deposit, and they're already making interest off it," says an ad executive.

But, some analysts say, the price of faster service will catch up with those trying to avoid it. One businessman complains he just switched banks to avoid high fees and minimim balances only to have his new bank bought by a larger one. "Even if I change again, it will only be a matter of time before all the small, consumer-friendly banks are gone."

American Bankers Association spokeswoman Virginia Stafford says: "Customers demand more convenience and efficiency, but they have to make a decision about what they're willing to pay for." There's no shortage of choices, she adds, citing the 10,000 commercial banks and other providers of electronic financial services.

Yet, at all of them, employing people has become almost a luxury as technology does the job faster and cheaper. The First National Bank of Chicago charges $3 for each teller visit after four monthly free visits.

The bank can't spare the labor: It laid off 11 percent of its retail work force last summer. It is encouraging clients to use the 500 ATMs in the area to free up human resources for other functions, says spokesman Thomas Kelly. …

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