ECONOMY

Bank of Greece publishes tables of hidden transaction charges

The Bank of Greece has finally shed light on the charges retail banks impose to customers, and which are often hidden in the small print of contracts, by publishing on its webpage (www.bankofgreece.gr) detailed tables of what each bank charges for interest, commissions and loan processing costs for a number of products and services. The central bank’s initiative is a significant step toward more transparency in the market. The tables show clearly that the only thing banks offer their customers for free is physical access to their branches. The number of charges imposed on each transaction is mind-boggling: charges on cash withdrawal, commissions on cash deposit, charging expenses for maintaining an active account, expenses for maintaining an inactive account, commission charged on questions of account balance made through the interbank network, charges for provisional approval of a loan, charges for a final approval of a loan, «technical control» charges, «legal department control» charges and many others. A cursory look at the tables reveals significant differences in charges imposed by banks for the same products and services. There are also several charges whose rationale, or even legality, can be questioned, such as the abovementioned double charging for loan approval (provisional and final) and the charge imposed when customers query about their account balance using an ATM at a bank different from their own, as well as the annual fee imposed on open-ended consumer loans and the high charges for issuing or payment of money orders. The bankers themselves counter that these charges reflect real costs to the banks or say that since many traditional revenue sources (through other charges) have been abolished, the banks cannot afford to forego revenue in a highly competitive environment. They also say that charges per transaction are more fair than raising interest rates across the board.