Customers worried as banking charges pile up

A very welcome SMS — bank alerts — will cost more. Some leading private sector banks, including HDFC Bank, Axis Bank and ICICI Bank, have announced that they will charge an annual fee for SMS alerts.

While savings accounts customers will pay Rs 60 a year, current account customers will pay Rs 100.

An ICICI Bank spokesperson said: “ICICI Bank, like many other banks, has started charging its savings account customers for SMS alerts, following the steep hike in SMS charges by telecom operators.”

Until recently, this facility was free and seen as a value-added service. While fees on various banking services is hardly new, the latest, on SMS alerts, is worrying customers. “The incidence of charges for services is already high. Can’t these alerts be treated as a basic service?” asked a visibly agitated Amala, an Axis Bank customer. The RBI is not in favour of increasing service charges. However, its policy is not to interfere with the service charges levied by banks under normal circumstances.

Customers can ask the banks not to send them alerts, but most people are unwilling to de-register because the alerts help prevent high-tech frauds.

“Till now, banks prided themselves on providing instant SMS alerts for free. Just when we got accustomed to it, they are levying a charge,” said B. Raghavender, an Infoscion, as he waited to be served at a bank branch here.

Private banks have been charging for a number of services and though they appear to be small, customers end up paying a substantial amount over a year.

Public sector banks, however, are not yet aggressive in charging extra for services.

State Bank of India, for instance, still offers the alert service free of cost as do other public sector banks.

An Axis Bank official, who did not want to be named, said SMS fees would soon become an industry standard, whatever the reason.

Private banks were not willing to quantify or comment on the fees they could get, given their large customer base.

(This article was published on June 22, 2013)
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