Royal Bank sparks backlash with fee hikes in the Caribbean
Customers line up to close their accounts after RBC introduces new banking charges
Royal Bank is the only big Canadian bank that hasn't announced any personal banking fee hikes in this country this year. But it's still facing the wrath of customers — in the Caribbean.
Some RBC Caribbean clients are so upset over new monthly charges, they lined up for hours to close their accounts.
"Customer exit continues at Royal Bank," read one recent headline on a local news story about a run on an RBC branch in St. Kitts.
"RBC customer pull-out spreading throughout the region," announced another article.
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RBC wouldn't confirm details to CBC News, but it appears that customers in at least seven Eastern Caribbean countries — including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines — are now facing a monthly charge of 25 East Caribbean dollars ($11.75 Cdn) for some personal bank accounts.
Seniors with an RBC Sixty Plus account will be charged a $12.50 XCD ($5.88 Cdn) monthly fee.
Minimum wage in St. Kitts is $4.23 Cdn an hour, the highest minimum wage among the countries affected.
The bank rolled out the new charges between May 23 and June 20 at a time when it's enjoying multi-billion-dollar profits. Numbers released at the end of May showed RBC boosted its second-quarter profit by three per cent to $2.57 billion Cdn.
Fees that bite
So many people chose to close their accounts, police in St. Kitts and Nevis even sent out an alert, urging RBC customers to use caution when withdrawing their money.
"Keeping it around the home, office, under the bed, or on your person and not in another financial institution is not a wise choice," the alert said.
Melisa Boutin, an RBC customer who lives in New York but keeps some of her money in a branch in St. Kitts, says the new fee is just too high for the average customer.
"Going from zero to $25 XCD is too much," she said. "They should have expected this kind of backlash."
Boutin says she plans to close her account the next time she visits St. Kitts, where she grew up.
She says she has spoken with friends on the Caribbean island who joined the rush to pull out of RBC.
One friend lined up for four hours, Boutin said. Another chose to avoid the crowds and withdrew all her cash from an ATM.
"People feel it's a money grab on the part of Royal Bank," said Boutin. "There's no better service coming with that."
Services such as online and mobile banking, for example, have been slow in coming for RBC's Caribbean customers, she claims.
The bank has branches in 17 Caribbean countries and territories, where it serves more than one million customers.
The fees sparked such anger in the Caribbean, politicians even weighed in. Timothy Harris, the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said his government regretted "any inconvenience or hardship caused to our public" because of the charges.
He also urged the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank to expedite its plan to examine commercial bank fees.
RBC has acknowledged the backlash.
"We recognize that recent changes to our service fees in the Caribbean are causing concern among some clients in the region," spokesman A.J. Goodman told CBC News in an email.
He said RBC adjusted some fees in parts of the Caribbean "to reflect the cost of doing business in these countries."
The bank continues "to deliver good value and competitive pricing" in the region, he said.
Some learned of fee on social media
RBC's explanation doesn't comfort Boutin, who works as a financial educator.
"If you have to introduce a fee to improve your bottom line, I can understand that. But I don't think that they have their customers in mind," she said.
She claims customers like her weren't properly notified about the charges. Boutin learned about the $25 XCD fee on Facebook, just days before it took effect.
A friend announced the news on the social media site after learning about the charge from an RBC bank teller.
"Please don't be a victim of this ripoff," the friend wrote on Facebook. "Spread the word!"
RBC says it notified customers through several channels, including by letter "in some cases," in branches and on its website.
Last year, new fees for Canadian RBC customers were also met with an outcry from the public and politicians — so much so that the bank axed them before they took effect.