THE EDITOR, Sir:
Distraught parents are fuming over the move made by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) to charge children for holding accounts which are below the 'minimum balance'.
Only a week ago, some parents were discovering that their children are being charged these fees from as far back as mid-2011. Fifty dollars is deducted from students' accounts every month as minimum balance fees under the Schools Savers Programme which is run by JNBS.
Considering the nature of this programme - if the bank was really 'looking out for children's interest', then these fees would be waived. Does JNBS actually care about the development of thrift among students, as set out in their objectives, or is it a ploy to put more money in its coffers?
It is quite shameful, to say the least, that its target is children. Some of these children can barely find $50 to save for an entire month. They usually save anywhere between $10 and $30 each week, with blank weeks here and there. Some are fortunate to come up with more than $50 weekly.
Sacrifices are made for these savings. Many students squeeze something from their lunch money or even dip into taxi fares. It is heart-rending to see children's desperate efforts to build their future, only to have the financial institution lie in wait, salivating, to snatch these struggling students' money.
Children are minors. They are not in the workforce earning a living. How then can they be fined tax or fees by a bank that encouraged them, at the outset, to open accounts with "whatever they have"?
Checks made with a branch of JNBS in central Jamaica revealed that this practice came into effect in 2011 when the minimum balance was increased to $2,500. As this was not properly communicated to many schools and parents, a great number of accounts came up short of this amount. So, the building society got busy charging fees month after month.
JNBS boasts 900 schools as active participants in its Schools Savers Programme, with approximately 121,000 student savers. If students were not motivated in some way, many would not have joined.
What will happen to these children's sense of trust and achievement? And we turn around and ask, "How did we get here?" Will it make sense to "cultivate the habit of saving from a tender age", as crafted by another of JNBS's objectives?
Parents are irate over the decision and some threaten to close children's accounts if these deducted fees are not retracted. Parents displayed passbooks showing monthly withdrawals with balances spiralling downwards from over $1,200 to $562.
Queries made to several banks including Bank of Nova Scotia, Victoria Mutual Building Society and National Commercial Bank revealed that children's accounts at their banks are not charged minimum balance fees.
JNBS is urged to have effective dialogue with schools and parents to rectify this situation because this does not augur well for students' zest for developing thrift. We cannot afford to warp our children's future because we want more.