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Some banks are levying more fees as a way to cover plunges in revenue, with industry leader MUFG Bank considering a maintenance charge for inactive accounts.

The moves reflect a tougher business environment amid prolonged low interest rates as well as higher costs for labor and money-laundering prevention.

Gaps between lending rates and deposit rates have shrunk due to the negative interest rate policy of the Bank of Japan, which reduced bank revenues on lending. Costs to manage accounts and to monitor them to prevent fraudulent deposits and withdrawals have also risen.

Mizuho Bank raised its fees for over-the-counter money transfers to ¥400 to ¥900 in November, an increase of ¥100 to ¥200. The bank also plans to increase fees for such transactions using ATMs next year.

In December, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. started charging customers for deposits of 301 or more coins over the counter.

MUFG Bank is mulling an annual fee of ¥1,200 for accounts showing no transactions for two years, officials said.

Predecessors for such moves include Resona Bank, Juroku Bank and Okazaki Shinkin Bank. But they are still a minority in a country where people have a common perception that bank accounts are meant to be free like air, industry watchers say.

Meanwhile, simply charging a toll on depositors would meet a public backlash. A senior official of the Financial Services Agency suggested that customers will not be convinced if they are just told that the bank is taking more money because it is having a difficult time, without improving service.

Banks charging more commissions will need to provide new value, such as improved services driven by information technology, analysts say.

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