Consumers Empowered: A Year of Big Victories Over Small Fees

The victories by consumers over big business were resounding in 2011, although the stakes were small – monthly fees hovering at $5 or less.
But to focus on the dollar amount is to miss the point that consumers took to social media in thousands and exercised their power effectively. In their biggest victory, they forced the biggest U.S. banks to quickly back off debit card fee plans that were months in the making.
Netflix customers were so incensed when the online video and DVD rental company announced in July that it would raise monthly fees by 60 percent that they bailed out on the previously popular online business – and they did in huge numbers. Netflix lost 800,000 subscribers and saw its stock price plunge in a nightmare quarter.
It was Bank of America’s plan for $5 a month fee on debit card transactions, announced in late September, that recharged frustrated consumers the most, fueling the already established Occupy Wall Street movement that was targeting corporate greed.
The cause against big banks brought consumers and protesters together – if they weren’t already in tandem.
And by forcing Bank of America and other big banks to rescind debit card fee plans weeks later, consumers gave new life to credit unions, those often ignored cooperatives with friendlier customer terms than the banks with the household names and ATMs all over town.
“Consumers have the power to make the big banks back down from unfair practices if they raise their voices and vote with their feet and their dollars,” said Norma Garcia, manager of Consumers Union’s financial services program, after BofA rescinded its fee in late October. “In the end, Bank of America understood that it risked losing too many valuable customers by charging an unfair debit card fee.”
Just this past Thursday, Verizon made a splash on the Web when it announced a $2 fee on one-time bill payments made online or over the telephone. The next day, the largest U.S. wireless provider backed down and killed the fee plan after hundreds of customers made their angry voices heard on Verizon’s Facebook page.
“At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time,” said Dan Mead, president and chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless, in a press release.

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