I have been digging through some family archives and came across an old bank passbook belonging to my great grandfather, William Booth. He lived in Perthville in the central west of NSW. His account was with the Bank of New South Wales, Bathurst branch.
Pasted inside the front cover is a statement of the account keeping fees. I was born after decimalisation, so 5/- was not immediately meaningful to me. It turns out that the semi-annual fee is five shillings. To complicate matters further, the first transaction in the passbook is dated 1903, so these are British shillings. Australia did not introduce its own currency until 1910.
Having worked out that much, I was interested to compare 1903 account keeping fees to account keeping fees today. So, the next step was to convert five 1903 British shillings into present day Australian dollars. The website Measuring Worth comes in handy for this purpose. The site’s banner features the following quote from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776).
The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it… But though labour be the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities, it is not that by which their value is commonly estimated… Every commodity, besides, is more frequently exchanged for, and thereby compared with, other commodities than with labour.
With that in mind, it provides a range of present day values for five 1903 shillings. Well, almost present day: their data series extend to 2011, so in 2011 terms five shillings is worth any one of the following
|£22.00||using the retail price index|
|£26.00||using the GDP deflator|
|£86.80||using the average earnings|
|£134.00||using the per capita GDP|
|£200.00||using the share of GDP|
Back in the day of William Booth, account keeping involved someone manually reconciling three columns of pounds, shillings and pence. These days the process is computer-assisted, so a retail price adjustment may be more appropriate than average earnings or any of the other measures.With UK inflation running at 2.6% over 2012, I can tweak £22.00 to £22.57. Using the current exchange rate, that amounts to A$33.33. Strictly speaking, even though Australia used British pounds in 1903, I should use an Australian retail index, but as Measuring Worth only has US, UK, Japanese and Chinese conversions at the moment, I will stick with the British approach.
So, Mr Booth was paying just over $5 per month in service fees for his banking. The Bank of New South Wales has since become Westpac. According to the Westpac website, the monthly service fee for the “Westpac Choice” transaction account is $5. Fees at other banks would be very similar. So, perhaps surprisingly, account keeping fees seem to have changed very little over the last 110 years!
Given the level of automation in banking today, it would be reasonable to expect that fees would be lower than they are today. Certainly if the five shillings were adjusted based on average wages, the cost of Mr Booth’s account keeping would be more like $20 per month. Not only that, like every other bank, Westpac also offers a basic account option with zero account keeping fees. I am sure that would not have been an option in 1903.
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- Banks Covered by the Australian Government Guarantee (24 October 2008)
- A way with words (4 January 2011)
- The Amazing Shrinking Banks (31 January 2009)