Minister wants SME bank fees inquiry

The NSW Minister for Small Business, Sandra Nori, says she intends to push for an inquiry by the ACCC into bank fees levied on small business when Australia's small business ministers meet today.

Ms Nori claims that small businesses are subsidising large companies, particularly in areas like merchant service fees. If an inquiry is to be carried out by the ACCC, it will have to be referred by the Federal Government through the Small Business Minister, Joe Hockey. However, he has not made any commitment to such an inquiry to date.

Figures released recently indicate that in 2001 small businesses paid a record $2.6 billion in bank fees, up from $1.5 billion in 1997. Ms Nori said that in merchant fees alone, banks are collecting triple the fees that big business pays.

However, the Australian Bankers' Association rejected Ms Nori's claims, with its CEO David Bell describing her statements as “absurd”. Mr Bell said that a minister should be more responsible and look at the whole situation. She's only painting part of the picture, he said, as her figures don't take into account an increase in the volume of business. He added that bank fees have been offset by recent decreases in lending margins also. The average merchant service fee is declining – I'm pretty sure of that, Mr Bell stated.