Bank fee decision expected today

Israel Consumer Council stages media campaign before final vote.

Under the banner of "Enlisting the Consumer," the Israel Consumer Council staged an all-out media blitz on Sunday in a final effort to sway the decision of the Knesset Bank Fees Inquiry Committee, set to be announced on Monday. The council's ad campaign ran in newspapers, radio and on the internet, as well as in mass e-mails, encouraging Israeli consumers to log on to the council's Web site, where they could send a form letter to any of the committee members requesting that many of the hundreds of fees charges by the country's largest banks be eliminated. The text of the form letters read as follows: "Dear Knesset member, it is certainly not too late for you to eliminate the lawless and repetitive fees. I request from you to urgently act on this matter and to legally end the charging of repetitive fees." Included on the council's site was a list of the committee members and their e-mail addresses. "Using technology, it is easier to enlist more participants in the campaign," said ICC Director-General Ehud Peleg. "We are making only a small request from them and we feel that our campaign, especially the e-mail chain, will be especially effective and spread like wildfire among internet users." A council spokeswoman said that while she has not been able to count the number of letters sent to members of bank fee committee, the campaign has received very positive feedback and she was confident it would be effective. However, a spokesman for committee chairman MK Moshe Kahlon (Likud) told The Jerusalem Post that Kahlon and the other committee members received numerous e-mails daily, and none of them had reported an unusual increase in e-mail volume on Sunday. Chief among the concerns of the Israel Consumer Council was that the Knesset committee drastically reduce the some 450 bank fees currently charged, as well as enforce the creation of a clear list explaining and detailing all fees. "It is very important that these two issues are taken care of by the committee," said Peleg. "We are afraid that if the bank supervisor is allowed to have control over these issues, as the banks want, this will open the door to more negotiating with the banks and in the end, nothing will change." Last week, the banks claimed a partial victory, saying that the committee would only make a small reduction to the total number of fees, something that was denied profusely by Kahlon. Kahlon said that once the bill was passed into law, banks would no longer be able to increase existing fees without authorization. They would also be prohibited from adding new fees without permission, and the number of fees would be cut from the current 450 to 100. "The figure is not final, however, what is for certain is that it will be cut drastically," Kahlon added. The Bank Fee Inquiry committee was formed in February to investigate the increasing number of fees that banks were charging customers. "Overall, the committee has been very pro-consumer and the work that they have done so far has been incredible," said Peleg. "What we are trying to do with this campaign is ensure that this effort carries through until the final vote." In addition to slashing fees and listing new ones, the Knesset committee is seeking to transfer control of fees to the Bank of Israel, thus increasing competition among smaller banks and allowing customers to switch banks more easily.