Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Debit Card Fees and the Social Media Backlash

As I discussed in my last post, debit card fees have been a hot topic the last 60 days especially for the big banks. Now we see many of these same banks, including SunTrust and Regions Bank, discontinuing their monthly fees and refunding those customers who had paid in previous months. Today, Bank of America finally conceded and are cancelling their plan for the $5 fee scheduled to start in 2012.

What is so fascinating is how much of an impact social media had on these decisions. For example, there was a young woman in D.C. who started a petition on a website, change.org, to "Tell Bank of America: No $5 Debit Card Fees." She's gathered over 300,000 signatures supporting her cause.

There have been thousands of Twitter comments and blog posts expressing outrage over the proposed fee from BOA. One recent post is a pretty good example (with a Halloween theme): ShooterOneSix "What's difference between a vampire & Bank of America? The vampire is only after your blood while BoA wants to suck your CASH too!#ows #p2." It has even spawned a Bank Transfer Day on November 5th when big bank customers are encouraged to move their accounts to a local credit union. Again, this has been spread through social media channels with incredible velocity.

So what's the lesson here? There are many, of course. One that immediately comes to mind is think before you act. While it may sound good sitting around a boardroom and crunching the numbers, this plan should never had made the light of day. If these banks had engaged their customers in a dialogue beforehand, I'm quite sure they would have seen the negative impact immediately. Remember, social media is a two way street. Now they have yet another publicity nightmare to clean up.