Millions of HSBC Direct customers received a strange email yesterday or the day before indicating a few changes to the bank’s fee structure. (HSBC’s former name for its Online Savings Account service is HSBC Direct; the new name will be HSBC Advance.) The statement seemed to indicate HSBC would be instituting a new, high fee for transfers into the bank account.
Here is the notice customers received.
Thank you for saving your money with HSBC Bank USA, N.A. We want to let you know that as of September 23, 2012, your Online Savings Account will be renamed to HSBC Advance Online Savings.
Your account number will remain the same and you will be able to use the account without any disruption in service.
The following account fees will change as of September 23, 2012:
Funds Transfer-In, per incoming transfer – $12 each (the transfer of funds from another person’s account, or another financial institution to your HSBC account)
Foreign Currency Draft (DD Commission) – $25 each* (official bank check purchased in another currency)
US Dollar Draft- DFT (Commission USD) – $10 each* (official bank check)
If you have any questions, click here for more details or contact our Customer Relationship Center at 800.975.4722. If you are calling from outside the continental United States, you may call us collect at 716.841.7212.
Thank you again for being an HSBC customer.
As expected, the notice caused an uproar. Many people wrote into to Consumerism Commentary complaining about the new fee, indicating they were closing their accounts held at HSBC.
This sounded strange to me. My thought was that this was a problem with communication, not a new fee for ACH transfers. No bank in its right mind would charge a $12 fee for an incoming electronic transfer from another financial institution. My gut told me this fee pertained only to wire transfers, not ACH or online transfers between HSBC and a linked bank account, not even a push ACH transfer from a bank account not linked by the HSBC account holder through the HSBC website.
If the notice pertained to fees for transferring money into the account via ACH, it would make no sense to own a HSBC Online Savings Account. That is the primary method of funding an online account like this. Some customers might have a direct deposit, but others simply use the web interface to move money from a local checking account to the HSBC savings account with, presumably, a higher interest rate.
Unfortunately, HSBC’s official fee schedule for the Online Savings Account was not much clearer. Calling the bank led to clarification. Many customers had been calling HSBC to inquire about these new fees for transfers or to close their accounts, and customer service representatives became aware of the situation. By the end of the day yesterday, all representatives were providing the same message: The email about the fees pertains to wire transfers only, not ACH transfers.
HSBC has even posted the clarification on the website:
Recently, Online Savings Account customers received an email indicating the Funds Transfer-in fee is changing on September 23, 2012. Please note, this is not a new fee and pertains to wire transfers into your account only. Bank to Bank transfers and other automated deposits, such as direct deposits of payroll and tax refunds, are not impacted by these changes.
As you can see, this fee will not impact most Online Savings Account customers. It is not a reason to close a savings account at HSBC. However, given that HSBC’s interest rate for this account has fallen so low — 0.4% APY as of August 22 — you might want to consider a new online savings account anyway.