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Savvy consumers embrace e-banking

By Patti Murphy

Americans sure like electronic banking options, and they're pretty savvy about avoiding "convenience" fees that often accompany e-banking services. These are key findings from research conducted recently on behalf of the American Bankers Association.

When queried about their preferred banking options, more than half (52%) of consumers said they used electronic methods. In fact, those preferring e-banking options were evenly split between online banking (26%) and ATM banking (26%), according to a survey of 1,000 consumers, conducted by Ipsos-Reid in early July.

Not surprisingly, the survey results suggest that generational differences have a strong influence on banking preferences.

Nearly half of consumers over the age of 50 reported that a trip to a branch office was their favorite way to bank, while only 17% of those under age 34 said they preferred to bank at brick-and-mortar banks.

Younger consumers prefer e-banking options such as online banking (35% ranked this as their preferred way to bank) and ATMs (33%) to banking at branch offices.

The preferences of older consumers were just the opposite: 47% bank primarily at branches, 20% use ATMs and 13% bank online.

I think most of us can attest to cross-generational differences in banking habits. I'm a baby boomer. I use ATMs a lot. Branch offices are my second favorite place to bank, and I'm a relative newcomer to online banking.

Bankers fees

At age 33, my cousin, Mara, describes herself as a member of Generation Y. I loaned her money last year to help her secure a lease on a New York City apartment, and on a recent visit she said she wanted to make a payment on the loan.

"Could you drive me by a Bank of America ATM so that I might get the cash?" she said.

"Why can't you just write a check?" I shot back.

"Checks are so messy," she replied. "I never carry a checkbook."

"What about branches. Do you ever go to your bank's branch offices?" I said.

"Only to use the ATM; I almost never go inside," Mara said.

Meanwhile, my mother, at age 81, just recently agreed to accept direct deposit of her monthly Social Security and pension checks and to allow one of my siblings to take over bill-paying (which was quickly converted to an online bill-payment process).

Now, whenever I visit Mom, she thinks of reasons for me to take her to the local bank. "I so miss doing my own banking," she told me. She has an ATM card, and I've offered to show her how to use an ATM, but she's declined.

My husband, David (a baby boomer like me, and a techie), doesn't understand why anyone would want to visit a bank branch. He proudly proclaims he hasn't seen the inside of a bank branch for at least 20 years.

He was among the first users of online bill pay (in the mid 1980s), and he uses ATMs for just about everything else.

Skirting EFT 'convenience' fees

David explained that he isn't bothered by ATM convenience fees. For some folks, however, cost does matter. Many consumers simply don't like the idea of paying extra to use e-banking services, and they go to great lengths to avoid fees like ATM owner surcharges.

I count myself among this latter group. I registered my company for online banking, finally, this summer. I did this after much prodding from my bookkeeper and my family, but only after first convincing the bank to wave its online banking fees. According to results of the ABA-Ipsos survey, I'm in good company.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers surveyed by Ipsos-Reid pay $3 or less in monthly bank fees, the ABA reported. And as the accompanying chart indicates, most of those consumers (43%) pay nothing in the form of monthly account, ATM access and/or related fees.

Among consumers who pay premiums to access their checking accounts, the single largest group (15%) pays in excess of $10 a month.

Fourteen percent of those surveyed pay between $6 and $10 a month in ATM and other checking account fees, and 12% pay between $3 and $6.

The ABA has drawn up a list of things folks can do to minimize bank fees. These are common-sense ideas you may want to consider for yourself and share with customers, prospects and family:

  • Embrace more e-banking options. Many banks offer free accounts to customers who do everything electronically.
  • Don't overdraw your accounts. Keep close tabs on your balances to avoid bounced check fees.
  • Shop around for lower fees and better deposit account rates. Some financial institutions even offer free ATM access and/or surcharge-free ATMs. (ATM access fees can be assessed by banks that issue debit cards and by ATM owners.)
  • Location should be a key factor in bank selection. Look for financial institutions with conveniently located branches and ATMs. This will help minimize surcharges for using other banks' ATMs.

Patti Murphy is Senior Editor of The Green Sheet and President of The Takoma Group. E-mail her at

Article published in issue number 060902

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