"Retail businesses in general do take cognisance of competitor prices. Banks are no different in this regard," says Keith Fuller, director of transaction products at Standard Bank.

MD of retail banking at Nedbank Saks Ntombela adds, "A competitor comparison is used to establish the going rate for services, along with the value clients attach to certain transactions, and of course, the costs for providing those services."

It's the value attachment and "going rate" that are perplexing. Standard Bank says affordability "relative to the market the particular product is serving" is taken into account.

It seems when calculating bank charges, much more emphasis is placed on consumers' tolerance of high prices and preparedness to pay than we know.

How to cut down on fees

  • Choose the bank with facilities and options that best suit your needs. Some charge less for inception, for example, but more to transact. Always compare the charges for the same services with other banks.
  • Choose the most cost-effective way to pay your fees. Most banks offer fee options such as: pay as you transact, a fixed monthly fee, or a rebate when you leave a certain amount of cash in your bank account for the calendar month.
  • Use ATM, Internet, or phone banking rather than going into the bank, as over-the-counter transactions always cost more. A R1 000 withdrawal from the ATM could save you 62%.
  • Use debit orders and electronic fund transfers (EFTs) rather than writing cheques; this saves you around 40%.
  • Bounced or post-dated cheques are expensive and completely avoidable.
  • Withdraw more money, less often. It's cheaper than making frequent small withdrawals.
  • Use only your bank's ATM machines. Saswitch charges are extremely high.
  • Make surplus funds work for you by investing in high interest accounts such as savings or fixed deposits.
  • Pay loans with the highest interest first.
  • Pay the full amount owing on your credit card each month to avoid interest charges on outstanding balances.
  • Pay more than the minimum instalment on loans when you can afford to.
  • Some fees can be avoided altogether: stay within your limit to avoid hefty overdraft and penalty fees, and make sure there is cash in your account when debit orders are due to come off.
  • Look after your bank cards to avoid replacement fees.
  • Use the handy online fee calculator most bank websites provide, and be aware of fee changes on your accounts.

    Looking for help?
    First try to resolve a complaint against your bank through the bank's official customer care channels. If you are still not satisfied, contact the ombudsman for banking at www.obssa. co.za or on 0860 800 900. Alternatively, approach the DTI's national consumer office on 0861 843 384.