Banks Pin Economics Committee in Latest Round of Fee War

Supervisor of Banks still hopes c'tee will reverse on curbing Bank of Israel regulation over fees

The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee cowered before the banks this week and amended a bill undergoing legislation, in a manner that curbs the Bank of Israel's powers to regulate bank service fees.

Upset at the development, the Supervisor of Banks at the Bank of Israel, Rony Hizkiyahu, met yesterday with committee chairman MK Moshe Kahlon, hoping to change his mind and restore the former bite of the bill. Hizkiyahu is also discussing the matter with other committee members.

The banks demand that small business accounts be exempted from the bill that would regulate banking fees.

They also want to add a salary cap or some other parameter regarding private accounts that would exempt them from regulation on wealthy customers.

The central bank opposes distinguishing between customers based on income criteria. The committee also postponed the upcoming vote on the bill from this Sunday to Monday.

Despite the lobbying, the committee did leave in a clause in the bill that would authorize the central bank governor to issue an injunction on certain service fees if they are deemed to either be anticompetitive, if the service is only available at the institution in question, or if the service is vital for managing an individual account.

Association of Banks official Tal Nadav said yesterday it was necessary to reduce the scope of fee regulation and to define clearly the supervisor of banks' powers. Nadav also called for banks to have the right to appeal decisions made by the governor or supervisor of banks regarding fee regulation.

Kahlon yesterday rejected charges his committee had succumbed to bank lobbying. "There's no matter here of folding or compromises," he asserted. "The issue of defining households isn't closed. We'll make all decisions as methodically, professionally, and responsibly as possible."

Consumer Council head Ehud Peleg yesterday called on MKs not to suffice with the formulation of the current bill but rather to include an explicit ban on overlapping fees. He added the multiplicity of fees and the breaking up of banking service fees into several categories, in particular, are the reasons they are so mystifying to the public