Banks, utilities companies, telecoms providers and many others punish you for loyalty. And it's something we ought to complain about more often.
My own bank pulled a fast one over me when my formerly fee-free account had a $5 monthly charged added to it. Shamefully I failed to act for 18 months. When I did, the bank relented and refunded me the $90.
Banks and other organisations rely on lethargy like mine to supercharge their profits. The fish-hook that got me was the old one of banks creating new accounts. The existing accounts that were once great deals suddenly become poor value.
These companies hope that those of us who have been recruited previously won't notice when a new account comes along and our existing one suddenly because a whole lot less desirable. Either the interest rate drops more than it should. Or, as happened to me, charges appear.
I didn't follow my own rules and I failed to call the bank to ask what was happening because, like a normal human being, I was busy. When I did I was told that I'd been informed of the change.
When I tracked down said communication I discovered that I was in fact told about the new fee, but there was no mention in the communication that my old Business Edge account could be replaced with the new fee-free Business Performer account that fitted my usage pattern perfectly. Bingo.
Over (wasteful) coffee later in the week, friends said it was only because it was a business account. Yet my personal bank will refund. A bank machine swallowed my mother's Eftpos card recently for no good reason and when I phoned up to complain on her behalf about the $5 replacement fee it was refunded instantly.
Getting a refund usually takes little more than saying and repeating if necessary: "I am a good customer. I know you have the ability to reverse that charge". If that fails send a secure message, or an email, or post a comment on Facebook or Twitter.
Sometimes bank customers complain to the Banking Ombudsman Scheme. In one case, "Linda" complained that she wasn't put in the best-paying account and could have earned $3000 more in interest. She didn't win the complaint, but did get a $500 payment as a "goodwill gesture".
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden says when considering a complaint her staff look at whether the fees have been adequately disclosed and charged in accordance with the terms and conditions for that product.
The Ombudsman also gets complaints from bank customers not being offered the same offers as the ones being made to new customers. "Consumers do not consider it is fair for the bank to take advantage of customer loyalty," says Sladden. "We expect banks to treat consumers fairly and ethically."
In my words, if your bank won't budge after a complaint to the Ombudsman then it's definitely time to up sticks and move to a new bank.
Interest.co.nz's David Chaston has a good point when he says it wouldn't be acceptable to allow bank staff to move a customer's balance to a "better account" without permission. In my case the bank could have at least told me that there was a new account.
Telecommunication and utilities companies also quietly change terms, conditions and prices regularly and provide juicy deals to recruit new customers. If you haven't reviewed your bank, telecommunications, and utilities accounts lately call up and ask the staff if they have a better account/deal. You could be pleasantly surprised.
Some banks (but not either of mine) pro-actively offer financial health checks. If not, says Sladden, ask for one. Ask these companies what the best deal is for new customers then demand that.
Finally, as Binu Paul of Pocketwise.co.nz points out, and my own research here shows, loyalty to banks for international money transfers is very costly indeed because of high fees and un-competitive exchange rates often hidden from the consumer.