Unfazed by sharp consumer protest, a number of banks are pressing ahead with plans for surcharges at automated teller machines.
The banks are taking advantage of a ruling by MasterCard International and Visa U.S.A. allowing the extra charges to ATM users from other banks, effective this week. Some banks are actively planning the fees and others already have started.
Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., wasted no time. Signs and screen messages alerting users were posted last weekend.
"We think it's fair that other banks' customers pay a nominal fee to use our machines," said Barnett spokeswoman Jerri Franz. She said the bank plans to use the income to increase the number of ATMs in its network by 20%, to 1,000 machines.
Summit Bancorp of Princeton N.J., which merged with United Jersey Bank last summer, said it will start surcharging in the next couple of months. "We think customers look at the convenience more than the cost," said a bank spokesman.
The planning comes despite rising ire from consumer groups and some members of Congress. These critics contend the fees are unnecessary and simply increase already large profits.
"I think it's a crying shame," said Josephine Nolan, a Republic National Bank of New York customer using a Chemical Bank ATM in New York. "They're making nothing but profits, when will they give the little guy a break?"
Another customer at that bank threatened to stop using her ATM card. "I'll get on (the teller) line and cash checks."
A Republic spokesman said the banks "current intention is to retain our pricing policy to charge no fees for any ATM transaction.
To be sure, not all banks are imposing the fees.
Many New York banks, including the new Chase Manhattan Corp., Citicorp, and Marine Midland, said they had no plans for surcharges at their ATMs. But these banks say they are feeling the heat anyway.
"Our customers are hearing news reports and are assuming we're doing this," one executive said.
Banks "don't want to be painted with the same brush," added Thomas O. Bennion, president of Southeast Switch Inc., owner of the Honor ATM network.
Bankers claim that nonbank ATM deployers, such as Electronic Data Systems Inc. and Affiliated Computer Services Inc. - companies that plan to take advantage of the new policy - should be the targets of consumer groups and legislators who are assailing banks.
Rep. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, both are pushing legislation targeting the fees.
"I'm hoping the marketplace will take care of itself before legislators take care of it for us," said Mr. Bennion.
So far, less than 2% of the 1,800 members of the MAC network indicated that they plan to surcharge, said a spokeswoman for Electronic Payment Services Inc., in Wilmington, Del.
David Lind, chief operating officer at Magic Line in Dearborne, Mich., said the network hasn't dropped its own rule forbidding the new charges. "Our members are not clamoring to surcharge."
An American Bankers Association poll of 253 respondents on March 22 found that of those that do not already surcharge, 28% planned to in 1996, while 72% did not.
Some network executives fear that transaction volume will decrease, but in the 14 states that allowed surcharging through state legislation, consumers are willing to pay.
Richard G. Lyons, chief operating officer, Internet Inc., owner of the Most network in Reston, Va., said research shows that transaction volume could dip as much as 15% in the first two months, but would rebound to pre- surcharge levels after six months.
"The economics still work in favor of surcharging if you're a bank," he said.
Susan Foreman, a Visa spokeswoman, said many banks will wait to see what other banks in their market do, and will judge consumer reaction.
Florida banks that have started to or plan to surcharge include SouthTrust Corp., Amsouth Bancorp, First Union Corp., and SunTrust Banks Inc.
In Pittsburgh, meanwhile, PNC Bank Corp. and Mellon Bank Corp. said they are weighing their options.
On the West Coast, BankAmerica Corp. is doing the same.
Anne Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp., based in Atlanta, said the publicity might dampen enthusiasm for surcharging in the short term and "keep a lid on prices." But, she added, banks must keep fees reasonable to keep consumers using electronics.