“We are trying to be a better bank moving forward.”

By Jason Bryce

Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously believes in miracles and now I do too. I have just received my personal ‘dividend’ payment from the Hayne Royal Commission into financial services.

Millions of other Australians are also getting paid hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars from the big banks.

Not only have I been refunded, with interest, all the fees Commonwealth Bank has taken from my account for years and years, the biggest bank of all has apologised profusely to me, in writing and over the phone.

“Let me say sorry about what has happened in the past,” said a Commonwealth Bank call centre person to me today.

“We are trying to be a better bank moving forward.”

About three years ago I entered my local branch (which no longer exists) armed with my account statement, printed out and marked with highlighter.

“My pay is going into my account, why are you taking out a monthly fee?” I asked indignantly.

Commonwealth Bank’s Smart Access everyday transaction account charges a $4 monthly fee, unless the account receives payments of $2,000 per month ($1,000 if you are aged 21 – 24 years). There are other terms and conditions. The Commbank website advises customers:

“Most bank accounts come with a monthly fee but you may be exempt if you make a minimum deposit every month.

“You may also be eligible for an exemption if you are a student or pensioner.”

Monthly account keeping fees are among the most hated fees in banking.

“I hate that CommBank charges fees if your account doesn't receive $1000/$2000 a month.” Posted ‘tashananana’ on reddit.

And I fully agree. Only one in five (21 per cent) of Australians accurately know what account keeping fees they are being charged, according to recent research from UBank and that includes me.

I know exactly how much the bank takes from my account and I have never liked it. But I do like the Commbank app, my (now disappeared) local branch and the real time payments to and from my other family members who can’t imagine changing to another bank. So, I stayed with the biggest bank of all, despite their monthly fee.

And so there I was, in my local Commonwealth Bank branch after waiting 10 minutes in a queue, complaining about a $4 monthly fee. I can’t claim to remember precisely what I was told but it was along the lines of:

“Our system determines if the minimum deposits have been made and the fee is then waived or charged.”

But I have the statement here, I said, pointing to the highlighted payments.

The teller didn’t appear impressed and gave me a raised eyebrow that said clearly and eloquently:

‘Do you really want me to add it all up? We have computers that do that you know?”

At this point, I realised I was arguing with a junior employee about a $4 fee while pensioners waited behind me, passbooks in hand, to collect their weekly cash.

I said thanks and left – unsatisfied. I pushed my frustration down deep inside, added it to all the other little banking grievances I carry around and got on with life.

Then last week came a letter in the snail mail:

“A recent review of our transaction accounts has identified you were incorrectly charged $359.41 due to a system error.”

“This was caused by issues with the setup of our systems, which meant that the fee waiver rules were incorrectly applied ….”

At $4 per month, that’s more than 80 months the mighty CBA computer system failed to get it right.

No wonder the Commonwealth Bank has spent $2.2 billion this financial year compensating customers.

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