August 24, 2014

Mystery shoppers pan banks' overdraft info

Aug. 6, 2014 – A group of consumer advocacy groups sent "mystery shoppers" to 39 bank branches to test the accuracy of information given to consumers about overdraft products and services, and found that the information was inconsistent and often incorrect.

The organizations – the California Reinvestment Coalition, the New Economy Project, Reinvestment Partners and the Woodstock Institute – conducted 64 visits at branches located in Chicago, Durham, N.C., Oakland, Calif., and New York City.

The overall findings, according to the resulting study, were that banks across the board provided explanations of overdraft programs that varied from branch to branch and employee to employee – resulting in unclear and incorrect information. The mystery shoppers found that employees did not make clear how overdraft fees were triggered, or how the opt-in requirement for ATM and debit courtesy overdraft works. The study also found that branches in predominantly non-white neighborhoods had longer wait times and fewer employees available to help customers.

As a result of the study findings, the groups made recommendations to CFPB and banking regulators, including that they ban overdraft fees at ATMs and for debit-card transactions.

CFPB listed overdraft regulation as being in the "prerule stage" in its Spring 2014 regulatory agenda and has indicated that possible areas of concern include opt-in processes, fee structures and transaction posting order.

A NAFCU Economic & CU Monitor survey last year found that 98 percent of survey respondents charge overdraft fees, with a median fee of $25. However, 94 percent of these will reverse charges on a case-by-case basis, and nearly 70 percent of respondents contact members who repeatedly incur overdraft charges.