Bank-fee-killing service rolled out by fintech firm

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There’s a mysterious, recurring charge on your bank card statement, and you’ve been too lazy to investigate it because it’s less than $30.

Sound familiar, at least in the case of your customers? Increasingly consumers, especially millennials, are paying for things with an automatic debit from a card — streaming TV services, gym memberships, cellphone bills, rent and so forth.

“Over the last 18 months, the average number of automated charges per person has doubled,” said Yahya Mokhtarzada, co-founder and CEO of Truebill, a fintech startup that acts as an automated financial advocate. It connects to bank or credit card accounts, monitors transactions and identifies potentially improper charges that the consumer might not even notice. With customers’ permission, it applies for a cancellation on their behalf.

“It turns out there are a lot of people out there who are paying for an old subscription that they forgot about or for a free trial that converted into a subscription they’re unaware of,” Mokhtarzada said.

Truebill’s app provides a dashboard that shows the user’s subscriptions and recurring bills in one place. It has 120,000 users so far. Users may cancel any subscription with one click.

On Thursday, the company announced a new feature: the ability to cancel late fees, overdraft fees and other bank fees.

“Last year, banks made $16 billion in revenue just on overdraft fees,” Mokhtarzada pointed out.

When this new feature detects a late fee or an overdraft charge, if the customer allows it, it contacts the bank on the customer’s behalf to request a refund.

Truebill developers reverse-engineer the process each bank goes through when deciding to issue a refund.

“We look at things like, is the account in good standing now and is this the first charge of that type in the past X months?” Mokhtarzada said. “If those criteria match, we know there’s a much higher possibility of refunds.”

In a month of testing, Truebill is clawing the bank fees back 40% of the time.

One thing that comes up when trying to cancel recurring charges is the challenge of coding — the way the merchant and transaction are identified does not necessarily match the name the consumer is familiar with. Sometimes only a phone number is provided. Other times, the vendor uses a third-party billing service the consumer fails to recognize. Truebill has automated processes to determine the original biller.

Some companies, like Netflix or Spotify, are amenable to cancellations. Others, whom Mokhtarzada calls “bad actors,” sneak people into subscriptions and make it really difficult to get out.

Truebill continuously updates the workflows it uses to cancel each subscription. Some billers, for instance, will suddenly require extra information such as the last four digits of a Social Security number, so Truebill will set up an automated process to obtain that data.

Truebill keeps 30% of the recovered amount of bank fees and subscriptions.

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