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Can Banking Income Woes Be Fixed with a $5.95 Fee?

By Jim Bruene on July 17, 2010 9:33 AM | Comments

imageWhen I see large numbers, say a billion or more, I mentally divide it by the number of people impacted to make it more meaningful. In Seattle, we are about to embark on our very own Big Dig, replacing the 1953 waterfront viaduct with an underground tunnel. The $2 billion cost estimate comes out to about $1,000 per person in the Seattle metro area, and that's before the "expected" cost overruns (see note 1).

Bank of America announced yesterday that due to the just-passed financial reform, its revenues will drop by $4.3 billion annually (WSJ article), more than two waterfront tunnels every year. But across 55 million customers, that's only $78 per person. Coincidently, that's exactly two $39 debit-card overdrafts.

To make up for the lost revenue, the bank needs about $6 per month in fees across the entire customer base (note 2). I can envision a package of new and existing benefits pitched to customers to convince them to pony up the $5.95/mo in new fees. For example:

  • Real-time mobile/desktop alerts
  • Lifetime data backup in the cloud
  • Linked OD protection
  • Instant bill pay with guaranteed delivery  
  • Remote deposit capture
  • No-hold customer service with guaranteed same-hour call back
  • Custom fraud tools with fraud-loss guarantee
  • Online financial management tools
  • Desktop/mobile apps fine-tuned for specific customer segments
  • Rewards program for self-service/estatements
  • Two-way alerts
  • Monthly credit score

It will take years to make the transition. But in the end, consumers will get used to paying modest monthly fees instead of facing $39 overdraft-fee shocks several times per year (note 3). And banks/credit unions can spend less time soothing exasperated customers. It could be a win-win.   

1. Luckily, we have municipal debt, so we can pay this off at $75+ per person, or coincidentally again, about $5.95/mo for 30 years. And the state is helping out too, so the Washington population will be pitching in to help lower the actual cost to Seattleites.
2. This is an extremely simplistic example to make a point and does not factor in cost cutting, commercial banking revenues, etc. 
3. Since banking is highly competitive, any new fees will work only to the extent the overall price/value of the services remains competitive.
4. For more ideas, see our annual planning report, which includes a section on potential fee-based online/mobile services.


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