Embrace online charges: bank

Australia's richest bank claims its customers should value the charges imposed on telephone and electronic transactions as a sign that service levels are on the rise.

Defending its decision to impose a 30 cent fee on all Bpay telephone-based transactions, the National Australia Bank (NAB) - one of just a few banks to issue the charge - said the value of a banking service hinges directly on the price charged for that service.

"People are appreciating the value of the various payment mechanisms that are available to them," said NAB media spokesman Haydn Park. "If you use various forms of electronic commerce, depending on what channel it is, you'll have a charge for that and therefore you'll value that service according to its security, convenience and its price. If you value and appreciate a service, one of the governors of that is in fact is price."

A spokesman at the national office of the Financial Sector Union (FSU) laughed off the NAB's claims that pricing levels directly correlate with the value of a service. "People don't appreciate services because they pay for them; people appreciate services because they're provided to them," said Rod Masson, the FSU's national communications manager. "It's ridiculous to think that because there is a premium placed on it, that therefore we'll respect it even more, particularly when it's a fee imposed by an institution that's making well in excess of $2 billion profit every year. It's a ludicrous assumption."

Responding to findings from last year's Wallis Report on the Australian financial sector, many banks signalled their intent to distance themselves from expensive 'bricks-and-mortar' operations in favour of cost-efficient electronic and telephone delivery channels. While this approach is widely recognised as a fact of modern business life, Masson also claims the recent spate of bank closures is proof that local finance houses are using technology to conceal an unwritten code of banking conduct.

"Bank closure itself has been a promotion of the type of service delivery platform banks want to operate on. It very much ties in with the strategic position banks have adopted that says they will: increase pricing on face-to-face transactions to drive people to alternate delivery systems; deliberately under-staff retail areas to ensure long queues and drive people away; and commence a process of shutting down even the most profitable outlets to drive customers to alternative means of delivery," he said.

"They've spent a hell of a lot of money on technology and eradicated an enormous amount of jobs from the system, but they still take five days to clear a cheque."

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