Bankers Aghast at Proposed Antitrust Fine Over Fees

Israel's big banks are suggesting that they reach an "understanding" with the Antitrust Authority about rules to govern information sharing on service fees. As far as the trustbuster is concerned, though, perhaps the banks should be made to pay for the past error of their ways.

Antitrust commissioner Ronit Kan is weighing the imposition of a NIS 290 million fine on the banks for previous coordination of service fees. Banks Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount would each pay NIS 80 million, First International Bank of Israel would pay NIS 30 million and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot would pay NIS 20 million, according to Kan's line of thought.

Representatives of the banks met with envoys of the Antitrust Authority on Tuesday to discuss the matter. There was no meeting of the minds, though: The bank representatives were astonished by the penalty Kan has in mind. One of the bankers even called the figure "insane."

The process actually began months before, after the Antitrust Authority announced that it would be ruling against the banks for anticompetitive conduct regarding fees. Their information sharing was a violation of antitrust law, the trustbuster said in a ruling that could provide grounds for class action suits. Capital-market sources estimate that if any arise, their amounts could reach the billions of shekels.

After the trustbuster's announcement, the banks asked for time to consider their position. Once delivered, Kan found it unconvincing and decided to continue with the investigation. Hence yesterday's meeting, solicited by the bankers, who had hoped to reach understandings. Now the bankers have asked for more time to digest Kan's latest salvo.

The fine would be paid into the state treasury, by the way.