Johannesburg - Five years ago, Standard Bank was the country’s cheapest bank. It now has the ignominious title of SA’s most expensive bank, the sixth annual Finweek bank charges report has found. Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK] has unseated Absa Group [JSE:ASA], which decided to leave its bank charges unchanged in 2010.Finweek’s review of SA bank charges notes the growing gap between package options and the amount of money forked out by those who pay for each transaction individually as financial institutions seek to drive consumers to their all-inclusive options regardless of their personal requirements. When considering the shocking jump in some of Absa’s banking costs between 2005 and 2010 for Finweek’s hypothetical family, it’s hardly surprising that the Barclays-controlled group felt obliged to freeze hikes on its retail bank charges. At 82% the increase in pay-as-you-transact (PAYT) fees since 2005 is the biggest of any of the big four – while the increase in package costs is a negligible 2.5%. Finweek’s report is based on the calculation of banking costs for a hypothetical South African family and involved “mystery shopper” visits to different branches of retail banks to test the consistency of information supplied. Probably the most worrying trend in the 2010 report is the rate of increases being imposed on Nedbank clients. It may cost less to bank at Nedbank Group [JSE:NED] now than it did in 2005 – however the mid-teens rate at which the group increased its fees into 2010 puts that record in jeopardy. Nedbank is no longer the country’s cheapest bank – the 15% increase on a PAYT basis and the 16% jump on its package deal contributed to First National Bank taking over the top spot. The 2010 Finweek bank charges report also further demonstrates the desire by banks to drive customers toward using electronic channels.It’s a strategy some analysts caution will cost banks in the long term as consumers are harder to sell to remotely and as those clients do the same transactions at a lower cost. It may be beneficial to them but means that financial institutions are obliged to drive ever increasing volumes through their infrastructure to ensure top-line growth, further impacting their ability to serve customers effectively without entering into a vicious circle of ever rising costs and consequential fee increases.Finweek subscribers can read the full report here.To subscribe to Finweek, click here.