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Despite collective profits of $34.8B, the big banks need you to pay more in account fees

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Veruca Salt

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There is a kind of comfort that one can find in a familiar story, retold.

When you know the story arc, and you can anticipate what happens next, you can glean the most important lessons, unbothered by details flying at you that you didn't expect.

Indeed, even Jesus taught his religion in this way. He told stories over and over to hammer home the moral code that forms the foundations of the Christian faith.

Jesus also scorned bankers. We can imagine him flipping tables in the temple as he sent out the moneylenders, the vendors and everyone who was defiling God's house.

Re-telling this story over and over is a useful antidote to another story that is re-told every six months or so: the tale of the out-of-control bank profits.

This week, CBC reported that Canada's major banks are at it again: they're hiking user fees. Last year, Canada's six major banks made $34,880,000,000 in profits.

Verily, those are table-flipping-level profits. 

Not content with simply making nauseating profits, they need more. ATM fees will increase by 50 cents at TD (for non-TD users) and it will cost you $75 to move a TFSA account from one bank to another (an announcement that was made back in March). For TFSA holders who don't have very much money, that might total what you'd otherwise save by sheltering your money there.

CIBC is punishing people whose accounts dip below $2,000: you'll have to pay a fee if your account only has $1,999 in it. Before, the threshold was $1,000.

Fees skewed towards lower income earners (or savers) are nothing new and banks hike rates because they can. It's a reminder of the need to keep runaway capitalism in check, or else pay for it every time you go to access your own money.

As I wrote back in March, Canadians need to confront their banks. And while I don't think Canadians are quite ready for the pitchfork approach, surely the Trudeau Liberals could kindly limit user fee creep, especially while the banks are raking in billions.

Trudeau's Liberals also could quite easily increase the taxes that the banks pay. The effective corporate tax for TD bank in 2009 was just 7.9 per cent. Increased taxes would help redistribute this wealth into social services, infrastructure or (God forbid!) child care.  

This is where the labour movement needs to use its collective strength. The squeeze on middle and low-income Canadians is coming from many different places: high student debt, high consumer debt, housing markets that are pushing young people to further extremes, precarious working schedules and so on.

Increased banking fees eat into already strained budgets.

The banking industry is one of Canada's largest where the unions don't have a mechanism to inflict internal pressure. They cannot use collective bargaining to force a redistribution of these profits such that workers get a piece of the profit pie.

It's exactly the industry where national unions must use other strengths they have: demanding change from outside the workplace, either through legislation or through alternatives, to make life better for all middle- and low-income Canadians.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is leading the way with their demand for a postal bank, administered through Canada Post.

Postal banking could help drive down costs by offering Canadians access to cheaper banking services. It could provide Canadians with a way to send money to loved ones overseas and avoid the fees levied by Western Union or other corporations. It could also provide an important revenue stream for the federal government.

Of course, when you're going full-on Veruca Salt, it's hard to imagine what life might be like without that extra 50 cents here or $75 there. You deserve those profits. What else are you going to fill your mini-pool with, if not the coins from the life savings of a poor and broken clientele?

For the rest of us, we can't stand for these fees. Switch to a credit union if you can. Convince your family members to as well.

But individual changes are not enough to confront such obscene greed. We need our politicians to support postal banking, better regulation and more taxation. And, we need the labour movement to find a way to force the banking industry to abandon their bloodthirsty quest for greater and great wealth.

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