Philippines: Workers slam plan to hike ATM fees

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Workers in the government and private sectors are balking at any increase in the fee for withdrawing cash from automated teller machines (ATM) that banks are expected to implement as a result of the lifting of a six-year moratorium on fee increases.

Government worker Karen said raising ATM fees was “unfair” to rank-and-file employees like her. As a public employee, her salary goes into her account in the government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank).

Because Landbank has a limited number of ATMs, Karen withdraws money from teller machines of other banks.

“[Landbank’s ATMs] are usually offline, especially during paydays. It’s very inaccessible. That’s why I’m forced to use other ATMs,” she said.

Withdrawal, balance inquiry

Customers can use the ATMs of their “mother banks” for free, but banks charge those who are not their depositors P10 to P15 per withdrawal. The balance inquiry fee is P2.

On Monday, Makati Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said ATM fees could rise by at least 50 percent based on rates banks had charged or proposed to charge before the moratorium took effect in 2013.

Interbank withdrawals by then may cost up to P30 per transaction, up from the current P10 to P15, said Campos, who filed a resolution calling for a congressional probe of the lifting of the moratorium.

“Banks — commercial, thrift and rural, with ATMs — cannot unilaterally adjust ATM fees as each bank will have to secure prior Bangko Sentral ng PIlipinas (BSP) approval to do so,” the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) said on Tuesday.

In a statement, BAP managing director Benjamin P. Castillo added that the efficient delivery of service to the public was the industry’s priority.

Long queues in more popular banks, such as BDO and Bank of the Philippine Islands, also force depositors, like events host Rommel Paborada, to use the ATMs of other banks.

“Rather than wait in line, I would just use the other ATMs. They shouldn’t raise the fees because sometimes, it’s really hard to find your bank’s ATM,” Paborada said.

‘Moderate greed’

Partido Manggagawa chair Rene Magtubo said bankers should “moderate their greed,” especially that any increase would put minimum wage earners at a disadvantage.

“The P15 (withdrawal fee) is almost 3 percent of the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila. Worse, it is around 4 percent of the minimum wage in the Cavite economic zone,’’ Magtubo said in a statement.

He said doubling the ATM fee would mean banks would be taking 6 to 8 percent of the minimum wage of workers per withdrawal. “This is highway robbery,” he said.

The BSP on Tuesday said it would bar banks from increasing transaction charges for ATM to exorbitant levels.

It also said it would thoroughly review all applications for fee increases.

The bank regulator’s assurance came two weeks after it announced that it was lifting the moratorium on ATM fee increases, which was enforced in 2013 after a public outcry against expensive fees.

“Rest assured that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas shall examine each request and decide if the increase is warranted to cover the cost of maintaining the ATMs,” it said in a statement.

Unjustified

Lawmakers on Tuesday warned banks against imposing hefty fees on the use of ATMs.

“We must remind banks that the cash being withdrawn from their ATMs is money that they borrowed from depositors. This is why banks are paying interest on deposits,” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said in a statement.

Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite called on Congress to set a standard rate of ATM transaction fees.—With reports from Daxim L. Lucas, Doris Doris Dumlao-Abadilla and DJ Yap

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