If I am not mistaken, I thought I heard a news release a few weeks ago, indicating that the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Police’s new policing strategy has been paying off with an increasing number of solved robberies. If that is truly the case, then kudos to the police.
In spite of those policing efforts, there seems to be a new breed of masked robbers who are never pursued by law enforcement. They are allowed to run rampant with impunity. Despite the fact that they are masked, we all know who they are but we remain powerless to apprehend them.
These new masked robbers do not need to hold us up with weapons in order to plunder our property. Their movements are totally ‘masked’, so much so that there is no national outcry.
The news media houses are mum; the Government is mum; the Chamber of Commerce is mum; the Employer’s Federation is mum, the labour unions are mum and the list goes on.
They all appear to have totally ignored the apparent injustices being perpetrated against the residents of this land. Even the government has turned a blind eye to them. One may argue that the government has been a willing co-conspirator, but that will be the subject of another blog.
These masked robbers all seem to be part of an organized cartel, where they have agreed not to compete against each other in order that they may all profit together, just like the crime families of old.
Just who are these new masked bandits? It is the banking community!
Within the last year I have seen a situation unfolding in the local banking community that disturbs me. I am seeing the emergence of a banking cartel. The banks seem to have moved away from competing against each other and instead have being deliberately introducing changes that benefit themselves at the expense of the consumer.
There has been a litany of new and increased fees ranging from minimum current account charges to charges to cash checks issued by other local banks. From where I stand, I feel violated by this obscene attack against me and my money. And the most frustrating thing is that you have no choice since all of the banks have or are adopting the same fee structures. Moreover, since the banks have a monopoly on the money system, you feel trapped as if you are in a slave ship: unable to move.
Fees to Cash Checks
If you do not have an account, there is a trend by the banking community to charge a fee for cashing a check issued by different local bank . In some cases this charge is as high as $7.00. I find this usurious. What is the reason for this charge? Are checks not financial devices that the banks themselves created? So why is the consumer penalized for using them?
What is the justification for the charge considering that all of this is happening at a time when the banks have implemented the new Eastern Caribbean Automated Clearing House system (ECACH) which was created ostensibly to allow banks to know within 24 hours if an issued check has sufficient funds available, thus reducing their risk? I know this system works because I have accounts in two banks and have written checks from one bank to deposit in the other bank and I have seen the money cleared within the same day. In both cases I had online banking access and was able witness this for myself.
Minimum Current Account Fees
Lately, local banks have either been introducing or increasing ‘service’ fees which are charged on checking accounts. I do not understand why the banks are charging a minimum fee particularly in the case where you opt to get your statements electronically. Here again, what is the justification? The banks are already using your cash balances in day trading activities and profiting thereby. They are already not sharing this profit with you in the form of interest, yet they want to fleece what little money you have. Mind you, you pay this fee regardless of whether you perform a single transaction or not. Recently, I had to constructively close a checking account at one of the local banks for this reason. I could not bear to see my money decrease to oblivion.
I rarely used that account, yet every month, the bank was huffing $25.00 from this account. This works out to be $300.00 per year for doing absolutely nothing. If one earns $2500 or less per month that works out to be at least 1% of your annual salary. Wow! I know no other type of enterprise that could get away with this, except government.
Needless to say, my complaints were largely ignored. I was left with no other choice but to close the account. I cannot afford to giveaway $300.00 for nothing.
Oh, and be very careful how you close your account because there are fees there too.
Fees for Statements
Ironically, it was just a few months ago that LIME declared that its customers would only be getting electronic bills and if any customer wanted to continue getting paper bills there would be a $6.00 surcharge. This news sent the nation ballistic, but I just received a similar notice from my bank letting me know that I would now have to pay $10.00 for printed statements and “not a drum was heard”.
Deliberately Delaying the Crediting of Funds
There is an unfortunate practice where a check you deposit to your account is cleared within 24 hours from the payer’s bank but yet you have to wait at least 3 working days to get the money. What is the logic here? If the check shows that it is good why in the world is the bank holding the money for two additional days? This would have been justified before the introduction of ECACH however, this delay tactic only serves to expose the banking community’s dishonest intentions.
ATM transaction fees
When I think that the banks are charging for the use of the ATM for local transactions, I muse at the cunning of the banking community. I vividly recall that it was not so long ago that the banks were telling us that we should use their ATMs because it cost them less to operate compared to human tellers. In fact some banks began to charge a fee when you used a human teller. This policy served as an incentive for consumers to move to using the ATMs which were essentially free at the time.
What is rather intriguing is that we are all now in the habit of regularly using the ATM, but the banks have introduced the same fees from which we ran, in the first place.
Can you believe that some banks are charging almost $1.50 for every transaction you make on your checking account? If you use checks to pay for all of your monthly expenses you could wind up paying over $50 per month in fees. This is another $600 per year in the pockets of the banker. What’s the deal? Is this another ploy to widen the banks profit margins at the consumer’s expense? What value did the bank pass on to the consumer to warrant these transaction fees.
No Saturday Banking
For me, the unceremonious and wholesale abandonment of Saturday banking is sheer evidence of the establishment of a banking cartel in Antigua and Barbuda. When Bank of Antigua introduced this, all the other banks felt it necessary to join the fray to avoid losing customers. Now that ECAB discontinued Saturday banking, all of the other competitors have followed. From a free market standpoint, I cannot fathom why another bank could not see the opportunity presented by the discontinuance of Saturday banking at other institutions. One cannot escape the suggestion that there may be some kind of non-compete pact among the banking institutions.
How does one escape this vicious grip of the banking community? One could wind up giving the bank at least $1000.00 a year for nothing. My suggestion is to move your business to a local credit union and support the credit union movement.
Joining a credit union makes you a part owner of that institution. At least, once a year you get to have a say in the way the institution is run. Moreover, you benefit financially several ways: you get better loan deals, better savings rates and you also benefit by getting dividends when the credit union makes a surplus.
Credit unions were born at a time when the banking system was similarly fleecing the ordinary man with impunity. Credit unions were created by the people to save themselves from the rapacious fingers of the banks and money lenders. I believe that the time has come again for credit unions to ride to the rescue of the people.
As consumers, we should express our displeasure to these unjust fees by moving our business to the credit unions. I believe that will send a clear message that we will not tolerate being made subjects of depredation.
We must arrest these new mask robbers now!