BMO says go electronic or pay $2 a month for paper statements

Paper statements are expensive to send by mail, says BMO, which is charging $2 a month to customers who won’t switch to electronic statements.

Deborah Salmon was unhappy to see a notice on her BMO statement, saying she would be charged $2 a month for paper statements, starting Feb. 1.

“I don’t want to sign up for online banking,” she said in an email. “I pay $14 a month for my chequing account, as it is. Do I have any options?”

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BMO is the third big bank to make customers pay to get mailed statements rather than electronic statements. TD Canada Trust was the first to adopt the $2 monthly fee a year ago and CIBC will follow on April 1.

CIBC will still send free statements to clients age 60 plus who have no-cost seniors’ accounts. BMO will do the same for those who already have a senior account.

“About one-quarter of our customers are members of the BMO Senior Plan and will continue to receive one free consolidated paper statement a month,” says bank spokesman Ralph Marranca.

“Going forward, however, new seniors or seniors who want to be new BMO customers will be asked to choose between a no-free electronic statement and a $2 paper statement.”

Last April, TD eliminated its Plan 60 account with free chequing for seniors. It still sends free monthly statements by mail to those with Plan 60 accounts before the changeover.

Seniors are obviously concerned about the trend to electronic statements and online billing. The big telecom companies, such as Bell, Rogers and Telus, have also started charging $2 a month for paper statements.

Bell customers with only a home phone don’t have to pay for statements sent by mail — at least for now.

Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, a seniors’ lobby group, says the older generation is being left behind in a corporate rush to cut costs by going digital.

“We argue for letting people age gracefully in their homes, as long as they have essential services such as phones and utilities. But if they have to pay user fees to get their statements, it becomes a denial of service.

“We also advise older Canadians to check their statements as soon as they get them to protect themselves from financial fraud. We shouldn’t make them pay for those statements. Those $2 monthly fees really add up.”

Deborah Salmon isn’t a senior or visually impaired. She doesn’t fall into the acceptable opt-out categories to BMO’s new policy.

“We are sensitive to special circumstances and do make exceptions in hardship situations or where someone has no access, or limited access, to a computer,” Marranca says.

“In those instances, we encourage customers to come in and talk to us, so we can make an appropriate determination on a case-by-case basis.”

Paper statements have lost their allure for many people, he says. More than half (53 per cent) of the customers who would be affected by the new fee’s implementation have already converted to electronic statements.

“More than 150,000 of our senior customers have opted for paperless banking,” he points out.

“We remain committed to providing both options (e-statements and paper statements). But the cost to provide paper statements continues to escalate — and we need to offset those costs in order to sustain the service.”

As for Salmon, she felt relieved after speaking to a BMO representative (who called at my request).

She now realizes she can get printed information on her transactions from a bank machine without paying a $24 annual fee. She won’t have to embrace online banking.

The banks are keen to keep customers from defecting to other institutions. My advice: Use your loyalty as a bargaining chip in winning concessions or looking for ways to get around new policies that upset you.

Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at [email protected] . Her new book, Fight Back, is available at bookstores and online at StarStore.

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