Ending the ATM wars

November 21, 1999

This is an edited excerpt of a San Francisco Examiner editorial, which was published Tuesday.

THE BANKING industry is proving to be its own worst enemy in the aftermath of a losing election campaign over excessive automated teller machine fees.

Earlier this month, San Francisco voters approved a measure that prohibits banks from charging non-customers a second fee for using their ATMs. Instead of being gracious losers, the banks obtained a temporary injunction.

The banks have a public relations disaster on their hands. Eventually, customers are going to gravitate toward other financial institutions -- such as savings and loans or credit unions -- that offer better services with a bigger smile at a cheaper price.

In the automated teller machine wars, the perception of unfairness is as important as the unfairness itself. If a single, reasonable fee were charged ATM users who are not regular customers, no one would complain.

That, to us, is the answer for the banks: Establish a single fee. Then banks can split the fee or reach some other arrangement that apportions the revenues and costs fairly.

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