Banks now want you to pay for face time, as more institutions charge fees for what was once the ritual for withdrawing and depositing your money: interacting with a teller.
The banks are finding that more customers are like Calee Himes. In 2007, Himes had just graduated from college and was looking for a high-yield savings account to stash away hard-earned money from her first job. She had a traditional bank account at US Bank and one with a local credit union, too. What she needed was something that earned interest and didn’t charge a fee.
Himes settled on an Internet-only ING account, which became a Capital One 360 account when that company bought ING last year.
“What I love about the account is that I can transfer funds to and from any of my other accounts from other banks with ease,” said Himes, a fitness guru and graduate student in Iowa. “As far as banking goes, I don’t do a whole lot of it.”
Customers like Himes are the perfect target for banks charging these new fees. At Capital One 360, a customer forfeits the in-person experience to save money. If the app or website is down, a customer must send a deposit by mail.
(Read More: Yet Another Bank Fee Could Be a Pain in the App)
Other banks are getting into the game. In December customers with “Virtual Wallet” accounts at Pittsburgh-based PNC could see a monthly fee added to do their banking in a branch. Among the ways to waive the $7 charge: be a student, hold a minimum balance of $500, or pledge to bank only online, by mobile or at an ATM.
“The question is, what are consumers going to be willing to pay for?” said Neil Weinberg, editor of The American Banker. “What is a premium service that they’re willing to see fees from? That’s the experimentation.”
Staffing branches with tellers can be considered a premium service in a world where fewer customers visit bank branches for transactions. In 1980, 95 percent of households used the bank branch, according to consulting firm AlixPartners. That’s down to 50 percent now.
Still, interacting with a live service representative is expected in the banking industry, where products can be extremely technical.
At Bank of America, customers shunned a product that offered fee-free checking without access to branches. Only 10 percent of new checking customers signed up for the “eBanking” accounts, which charged $8.95 monthly if a customer used a teller. That percentage started falling as fewer consumers wanted a branchless option, and just last week, the bank shuttered the 3-year-old service. (Existing customers will not be affected.)
“Customers want full service banking, even if they only visit a teller infrequently,” said Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America.
Banking online has become customary for many people, but it’s difficult to grasp that traditional branch visits are not complimentary.
American Banker’s Weinberg agrees, saying, “There’s a tremendous amount of resistance among consumers trying to pay for something that was previously free.”
—Follow Kayla Tausche on Twitter: @KaylaTausche.