Friday, June 02, 2006

ATM Move in US Riles TD Customers

Financial Post, Duncan Mavin, 2 June 2006

Customers of Toronto-Dominion Bank's U.S. subsidiary will get refunds of charges if they use other banks' ATMs but there will be no break for Canadian clients.

TD announced the U.S. move yesterday but made it clear Canadian customers will continue to pay service fees of about $1.50 per transaction for using non-TD cash machines.

TD Banknorth, located in the U.S. Northeast, is introducing a 'no ATM fees' card for customers in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and metropolitan New York. The bank is striving to gain market share in the region, where it bought Hudson United Bancorp this year.

"We knew coming into these highly competitive markets would require a different strategy for TD Banknorth, so we did our homework, starting with consumer and competitive research," said Thomas Dyck, director of marketing for TD Banknorth. Findings from the research were behind the no ATM fees card offer, he said.

The Hudson Bancorp branches operate in a very competitive market, said spokesman Jeff Nathanson. The No ATM Fees card may be the first to give bank customers free transactions at any cash machine in the world, he said.

Banks generally do not charge customers for using their own bank's ATM machines, or automated teller machines. However, there's usually a fee of about $1.50 at an ATM belonging to a different bank. TD Banknorth will effectively refund its customers for those fees.

TD said it has no plans to offer a similar deal to its Canadian customers. So, while TD Banknorth customers can use any ATM in Canada for free, TD's customers will have to continue to pay to use ATMs belonging to rival Canadian banks.

"It's interesting they can find a way to eliminate [ATM] fees in certain jurisdictions and not others," said Sue Lott of consumer rights group Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC.) "What is the difference in cost to their U.S. subsidiary than here?" she said.

PIAC has been trying for several years without success to get a good answer for the justification for ATM fees, said Ms. Lott.

The fees are "a continuing irritant" for Canadians, she added.

Duff Conacher, chair of the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition (CCRC) said the anomaly is "one of the clearest signs that [ATM] fees are unjustified." He said, "Self-service banking should not cost the customer, because the customer is doing all the work."

CCRC is lobbying Ottawa for regulation of bank fees, including ATM fees, in the run up to the government's review of the Bank Act, scheduled for early 2007.

Dianne Salt, vice president of Corporate Communications at TD in Toronto said TD is focused on offering good service and products customers want. "We feel that TD does have competitive products," she said.

Customers of the U.S. subsidiaries of other Canadian banks, including Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Centura bank and Bank of Montreal's Harrisbank, are charged fees for using ATMs belonging to other banks, according to their websites.