The banking news world is agog over the Wall Street Journal‘s lead story today: that Bank of America is beginning to roll out new fees on their checking accounts in an effort to recoup losses from D0dd-Frank Act regulations. The story is all over the place: NPR, Bloomberg, MSNBC, even Gawker. This shouldn’t be surprising — fees are a hot-button issue, and the decision could affect a massive percentage of BofA’s 55 million customers. The only surprise is that the story isn’t exactly news.
We reported this exact same story back when it was news — about 13 months ago, in January 2011. In fact, so did MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal’s wire service. As far as fees are concerned, the Wall Street Journal story today doesn’t contain anything new.
There’s nothing wrong with the story — it’s quite good. It offers plenty of worthwhile context for the fees’ existence, and explains the hastiness with which the massive bank went about implementing its infamous $5 debit card fee — basically, it was approved because it wouldn’t require any investment on the bank’s part.
But the story doesn’t really have what editors and journalists call a “news peg” — that key piece of new information that transforms an ordinary observation into news. All of these changes to Bank of America accounts happened last year, and all of the testing in Georgia, Arizona and Massachusetts began then, too.
The only part of the Wall Street Journal’s story that appears to be at all new is this: “some Bank of America branch employees in the Northeast have already been trained to handle the first phase of a U.S. rollout, one branch manager said.” The news here, if there is any, is that the bank is inching closer to bringing these changes nationwide — but they haven’t yet. And perhaps the Journal knows this is the case, but couldn’t get anyone to tell them on the record that this actually is the case.
The end result is nothing we couldn’t have gleaned from MarketWatch, or MyBankTracker, in the early days of 2011 (but with additional, well-reported context and background, of course).
This can happen on the Internet, as social media enables rapid research-less amplification, and the need for clicks and rapid posting can outweigh a purely news focus — we’re all guilty of this. Every time you retweet something you haven’t personally vetted and fact-checked, you take part in this, too.
That said, we’ll keep you posted if BofA does pull the trigger, and roll these fees out nationwide.