Canadians pay $185 a year in banking fees, among world’s highest

By Liam Lahey | Small Business

It's been said that through chequing account banking fees Canadians are being taken to the cleaners annually. In fact, it's more like to the tune of about $185 per year but that's still $185 that could be put to better use arguably.

So suggests a 2010 study by Vision Critical commissioned by ING DIRECT Canada that finds more than half of Canadians (55 per cent) have a fee-based chequing account and on average, they dole out $185 per year in fees for these accounts.

"That average includes people that are paying monthly fees and most banks charge monthly fees in the range of $10-$15 per month. In some cases, these accounts are subject to additional fees on top of that," explains John Davis, head of product management and market research at ING DIRECT Canada in Toronto. "You might find other charges such as buying cheques for your account or viewing cheques online, a lot of banks charge for that. These types of things add up."

ING DIRECT has been in front and centre for many months pushing its no-fee chequing account message on Canucks through billboards, television ads, and Internet banner ads. According to Davis, the marketing campaign is working.

"Ultimately banks benefit when people deposit money into their accounts. This is how chequing accounts used to work in Canada. Not only would you not pay any fees but you'd actually get interest on top of that," he says. "We've had more than 100,000 Canadians set up a THRiVE Chequing account.

"Overall, we're also finding our clients are really happy with this account. We do regular surveying to see if they'd recommend this account to a friend or family member and the scores are quite high."

ING DIRECT Canada's no-fee daily chequing account, known as THRiVE Chequing, has reportedly saved Canadians over $18 million in unnecessary bank fees, and paid more than $100,000 in interest. "There's no minimum balance required to use THRiVE Chequing. This account actually pays you interest and it doesn't charge fees for daily banking," he adds.

Consumers can help themselves too by using cash instead of debit cards to make purchases or a rival institution's ATM machines. But when it comes to fees imposed on investing in mutual funds for instance, Davis says those charges can be reduced by taking the time to shop around.

"Canadians are paying the highest mutual fund fees in the world," he says. "We pay substantially more than Americans do for essentially the same product. There's no connection between the amount of fees people are paying for investments and the market performance that those investments are going to get.

"Canadians should be looking at what they're paying in fees in the first place. The other thing they can do is shop for investments the same as you would for a car, TV, or anything else."

To that end, credit unions generally offer lower fees, higher interest rates and more personal service.

In any event, there are annoying, unnecessary fees for just about everything it seems. And one can't help but to wonder if former Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith's remarks on making the client the focal point of business again might be sound advice for financial institutions on this side of the border.

"With respect to banking fees, Canadians are operating under a myth that most of these transactions are being manually handled when in fact they're automated," Davis remarks. "We have a call centre that wins awards globally in terms of providing excellent customer service . . . that's a client experience we want people to have. We're also using technology to give Canadians better value."

Since 1998, PC Financial has also been offering what it calls a no-fee bank account.

"With two million customers, it's clear that Canadians continue to appreciate our no fee, no catch offering," remarks Barry Columb, president of PC Financial, in a statement. "They can save up to $200 a year in bank fees while also earning PC points, which can be redeemed in-store for free groceries and Joe Fresh fashions."

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