Doesn’t it feel like we’ve reaching a tipping point with bank fees? For most of my career, bank fees were the price of doing business with the big banks. You made a tiny mistake, you paid a not-so-tiny penalty, and you tried your best to move on. But over the last two months, it feels like conversations about bank fees are everywhere. Journalists, artists, politicians – it’s the one thing everyone wants to talk about.
And I, for one, am thrilled. When Amplify Credit Union got rid of all our banking fees on February 2, 2022, we became the first full service financial institution to take the plunge into fee-free banking. It shifted the dynamics of how we do business and how our members view their relationship with their bank. We forged our own path when industry insiders scoffed and gave us dire predictions about how catastrophic this could be.
(And by the way, none of those predictions or warnings turned out to be true. Maybe banks are a little more addicted to fee income than they would like the average Texan to believe.)
In 2020, U.S. based financial institutions collectively made $8.82 billion in aggregate fees which was nearly 6% of total bank profits that year. When we crunched the numbers at the end of 2021, we found that the average Amplify member paid three-times as much in fees as they earned in interest. Those are the kind of numbers that make you rethink your entire business model – which is exactly what we did. If the benchmark of any financial institution is to embrace financial freedom for its customers, then we needed to upend the apple cart when it came to our approach to bank fees.
We owe it to our community to evaluate and change the way we generate revenue to ensure equity and quality service to our members and customers. Somewhere along the way, the banking industry decided the best way to do business was to charge the people with the lowest account balances billions of dollars in fees. Well, we gave back nearly $2 million to our members, and we did it as an intentional rejection of the current system. We could not continue to promote a disingenuous brand that is self-serving instead of serving others, and we owned that. The result? Deposits are growing, our employees are excited, and our members are happier than ever.
If we really care about financial inclusion, it must be more than just a philanthropy opportunity. Financial inclusion must be baked into our systems at a structural level. There has never been a more appropriate time to collectively make this switch as we know the financial inequities that fees project on low-income consumers, younger consumers, and people of color. Our communities cannot thrive if we continue to have financial products that perpetuate the cycle of poverty amongst our neighbors.
Amplify has proven we’re not in the business of taking advantage of people and their money. There are other paths available to us, ones that empower–not punish–customers in a moment of need. I am proud to lead an organization like Amplify that can restore trust in an industry that has squandered so much goodwill over the past two decades. We know better, so let’s do better. I challenge other institutions to join us in this mission.