Banco Popular changes its ways

By Felix Salmon
November 23, 2010
post about Banco Popular's ATM fees on Sunday, Banco Popular has been in touch to say that they're fixing things.

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It seems I got results! In the wake of my post about Banco Popular’s ATM fees on Sunday, Banco Popular has been in touch to say that they’re fixing things.

But first, a correction: the charge saying “debit of ATM with flat fee” was not a flat fee after all, despite what the customer-service person told Engels, the account holder. Instead, the $10 was the aggregation of five $2 charges for using five different out-of-network ATMs over the previous month.

As of today, that changes: every time you use an out-of-network ATM, you’ll see a separate $2 fee on your statement, saying “Non-Popular ATM fee”.

That’s definitely a positive change, since up until today, Popular would save up all those bank fees in its back pocket and hit you with them all at once, at the same time as charging its $5 monthly account fee, thereby maximizing the chances of driving you into overdraft territory. That’s less likely now.

What’s more, Larry O’Brien, Banco Popular’s head of marketing, promised me that the bank would put a full schedule of all its fees up on its website. Again, that’s a huge improvement on the status quo, where you’re told the fees once — when you open your account — and then subsequently only on a piecemeal basis as and when they change.

In the case of the $2 out-of-network ATM fee, for instance, Banco Popular customers got a letter on July 15 that as of August 15 they could use the Allpoint network of 33,000 ATMs free of charge. In that same letter — which O’Brien has promised to send me, and I’ll post here when he does — they were also told that the surcharge for using an out-of-network ATM would rise from $1.50 to $2.

Incidentally, this stuff isn’t transparent even to relatively senior bank officers. Enrique Martel, the Banco Popular media relations person, initially told me that existing customers weren’t told about the rise in the ATM surcharge to $2. And even O’Brien said at one point that the $2 charge went into effect for existing customers only on November 8, rather than on August 15. (November 8 is the date that the bank changed the way it reported the charge on its statements.) So it’s hardly surprising that Engel’s customer-service rep got things wrong too. This is why having a public website for such information is such a good idea: it makes it much easier not only for customers but also for employees to get everything right.

In any case, well done to Banco Popular for changing the way it charges so quickly. And let’s hope it doesn’t take too long for them to put their full schedule of fees up on their website.

Update: Here’s two slightly different versions of O’Brien’s letter, and the statement insert. (All PDFs).

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