major cities found that New York City banks charge double and even triple the fees levied in the other metropolitan areas. The study, of fees charged for such basic banking services as night deposits and bulk cash transactions, was conducted Mark Green, who holds post of public advocate in the city government. "High bank fees are another onerous 'hidden tax' on small and midsize firms doing business in New York City," Mr. Green said. Small retailers in New York, for example, pay an average $892 a year for checking services, versus about $224 for a similar-size company in Houston. But a New York banker responded that "banks in the New York area generally charge more because of the higher cost of operations." James R. Coyle, president of Staten Island Savings Bank, added: "We do have higher taxes and higher costs of labor. I think that has a tendency to drive these fees up." Mr. Green's latest analysis follows his "New York City Small-Business Bank Scorecard," which studied small business checking accounts. That analysis, released in May, found that a hypothetical midsize retail business in New York can spend $4,000 a year on bank fees, four times the amount it pays in city business taxes. The small-business survey comes down particularly hard on Citicorp. According to Mr. Green, Citicorp charges small and medium-size retailers in New York City up to twice the amount it levies on similar customers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington. Case in point: Citibank charges the highest night deposit fees of any New York City bank, $5 per deposit, but offers free night deposit in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington. Citicorp spokeswoman Susan Weeks said the New York City subsidiary eliminated the night deposit fee in the summer. She criticized Mr. Green's study for focusing exclusively on fees, "while our customers are looking at the value of their total relationship" with Citicorp. Republic National Bank of New York cited an apparent inaccuracy in the study. The study claims that Republic charges the "highest fee for cash deposits we saw anywhere in the country" - $95 per $10,000 deposited. But Republic National spokesman Phillip Burgess said the bank actually bases its deposit fees on a straight $20 an hour labor charge to cover the costs of tellers counting the cash, with a $2 minimum. "There is no fee based on the dollar amount deposited," Mr. Burgess said. "It is strictly for the labor involved." Three community banks in New York City are congratulated in the study for offering low-cost business checking accounts: Flushing Savings Bank, Staten Island Savings Bank, and Gateway State Bank, which was recently acquired by Staten Island Savings. Mr. Coyle, Staten Island Savings' president, said his bank conducted a marketing study of fees charged by competitors and then "deliberately priced ourselves a little below that market. "We feel that this kind of business is profitable for us," he added. To remedy the alleged overcharging by larger banks in the Big Apple, Mr. Green advocates development and disclosure of a uniform formula for calculating service charges and a low-cost "lifeline account" for small businesses. New York and New Jersey already require banks to offer lifeline accounts to low-income consumers. Such accounts typically include no minimum balances and free checks.
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