Friday, 3 February 2012

Respectable Journalism

Channel Nine's 'A Current Affair' showed this story last night (Thursday 2 February 2012), titled "Bank fee farce." The premise is summarised below (taken from their website, link above.)
"Last year we paid the big four banks a visit — to open everyday transaction accounts with a $500 balance, and see exactly how much we were charged in fees over five months. We reveal the banks who slug you the most and the ones who will help you save."
The reporter, a dishing young blonde, walked into the 'big four' banks (ANZ, NAB, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac) while rattling off a (very rehearsed) line about their latest advertising campaign, and deposited $500 into a 'standard transaction account.'  They then left the money in the accounts for five months, without touching the money.  Interestingly, the accounts they chose all had 'unlimited access to money,' 'unlimited transactions,' and access to internet banking.

The results were extremely predictable.  One bank (NAB) who has been promising no account keeping fees ever, returned a total of $500.01.  The other three banks took approximately $5.00 per month in account keeping fees.  The other three banks took $20-25 dollars "JUST TO HOLD ON TO MY MONEY!"  What a scam!  Right?

Let's take a look at what actually happened.  The reporter went into a bank and asked for a standard account.  She agreed to their terms and conditions, and in return was given access to unlimited transactions.  Two banks offered to waive the $5 monthly fee if more than $2000 was deposited every month.  She then went and left the money alone for five months, just to make a point.  She did not use the account at all, and did not get any benefit out of it.

Let's look at another example.  Let's say I open a standard account with one of the three banks charging $5/month.  I direct that my pay goes into the account, and I use my card every day to buy bread, groceries, and pay my rent.  I access my bank account online nearly every day, and in fact I transfer money between my accounts all the time.  I even pay bills online.  For this service, I am paying $5.00/month.  But damn, I am getting my money's worth.  I get the security of having my money protected in a bank, rather than sitting under my mattress.

Let's face it, I don't earn a lot, but I put more than $2000 into my account every month, just from wages.  It doesn't stay there for long, but that isn't what is required.  If I was with one of the banks offering a fee reduction based on transactions, I would actually be paying LESS for using it MORE.

I could turn this post into a long-winded ramble (more than it already is) about choosing where to put your money, using savings accounts for savings, and standard accounts for spending, etc, but I want to focus instead on what is 'journalism' today.  I admit that criticising A Current Affair (or Today Tonight, or any other 'current affairs' program on a commercial station) is like falling out of a tree - really easy to do, and always lots of fun.  But I have to wonder about the people who write these stories.

Do they actually believe that people are going to get all het up under the collar because a ditzy blonde wasted $25 to prove a point?  Most people would be like me, saying 'Well that was stupid of her, wasn't it!'

I have a sad habit of listening to news radio, rather than commercial pop stations.  I am used to hearing things about turmoil in the world from a (fairly) balanced perspective.  So when I see articles like this, the holes and mis-statements just seem blindingly obvious.

Picture tomorrow's headlines.  "Reporter throws away $25.00 by being a ditz - more, after the break."  Surely that would be a ratings buster!

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