Will new tariffs lower bank fees?

Despite fierce opposition from consumer organizations and some Knesset members, the long-awaited bank fee reform is going into effect.

Rony Hizkiyahu 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rony Hizkiyahu 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite fierce opposition from consumer organizations and some Knesset members, the long-awaited bank fee reform is going into effect from today as planned. But there are still many open questions in particular among the consumer public about who will gain and who will lose from the new fee plan. From today, the number of transaction fees charged by the country's financial institutions will be reduced by about two-thirds from 198 to 72 by combining most major bank operations under one name, with one rate The central bank's Supervisor of Banks Rony Hizkiyahu hailed the reform as a "revolution" in the banking industry, saying that these reforms mark "the first time consumers have been given the necessary tools to fight the banks." But he was widely derided in the media for what became labeled "the half-shekel revolution," after Bank of Israel figures revealed that only half a shekel will be the average monthly saving as a result of the reforms. According to research conducted by the Geocartographia Institute on behalf of the Israel Consumer Council, a standard set of services including such basic procedures as an automatic salary deposit, cashing a check and withdrawing cash, will be 20 percent more expensive as a result of the new rules. Hizkiyahu defended his reforms by saying that their underlying logic is that consumers who can easily discern lower prices at a different bank can negotiate better terms from the bank or switch. To make the process simpler, the reforms also include a uniform fee for switching banks - NIS 40 (plus another NIS 40 for every credit card). Thus, the critical test of the reforms will be in seeing whether educated consumers do make the smart choices that will force the banks to reduce their fees. A major aspect of the new rules is the basic distinction between "direct" operations (by Internet, telephone or other automated tools including ATM's - without personal handling from a teller) and those received via teller at the bank's branch. The catch of the reform lies with customers who are unaware of, uninterested in or have limited access to direct services. Such customers, generally the elderly and the poor, will be affected because they will be charged more. According to the survey, the leading reason (23%) people do not use automatic services is because they do not understand how to use them, while a similar segment of the population agreed that transactions done through tellers are more safe than those done at automatic machines. Jeff Glazer, a recent immigrant from the United States, said that language barriers meant that he had difficulty navigating Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot's Web interface. "They have an English Web site," said Glazer, who came to Israel six months ago, "but I can't really tell what's going on." Glazer said his choice for bank was made when he arrived in Israel with Nefesh B' Nefesh, which ran a vendor fair where various banks presented their services. He regularly goes to his banker to ask questions or get help understanding his bill. Glazer represents just one example of bank customer who can not get by without basic teller transactions - which are more than double the charge for direct services. To remediate that effect, banks will be giving discounts to those segments of the population who do not have access to the Internet or are intimidated by the use of such automatic devices. Discount Bank will be allowing pensioners, students and newly released soldiers to use teller services at a 50% discount, while also allowing those who do not use the "direct" approach an allowance of four teller services at the direct service rate. Other banks will be giving similar discounts. Glazer has already been eligible for a complete waiver of bank fees for one year from the date of his aliya. Another major aspect of the bank reform are credit card fees. Whereas credit cards have often entailed a number of different fees, from today there will be only one monthly fee to pay. Consumers can now clearly see that a switch from a Bank Discount distributed Visa C.A.L. card to the same card distributed by the Visa C.A.L. company itself will save the consumer about NIS 7 a month (NIS 12.9 as opposed to NIS 19.8). Each category has its own winners and losers, and consumers should bear in mind that the cheapest bank for one user might not be a good deal for another.