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House probe on ATM fee hike eyed


Consumers line up at different automated teller machines inside a mall in Makati City. (TMT File Photo)

MEMBERS of the House of Representatives are considering to investigate the looming increase in automated teller machine (ATM) fees after monetary authorities lifted last month the moratorium on such a hike that had been in place since September 2013.

These fees could be raised to as much as P15 to P30 for every interbank withdrawal from the current P10 to P15 once implemented.

According to Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, there is no justification for banks to impose these increased charges on depositors.

“We must remind banks that the cash being withdrawn from their [ATMs] is money that they borrowed from depositors.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,” Pimentel said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Offhand, we see no justification for banks to impose ATM charges in excess of the P10 to P15 that they are currently collecting per single interbank withdrawal transaction, considering that depositors are merely taking money that they lent to the bank,” he added.

The P10 to P15 “convenience fee” for every withdrawal may be “minimal and acceptable,” but this might be followed by other fees, according to the lawmaker.

“Besides, banks are already extracting way too many superfluous fees from depositors, including the P300 to P500 monthly charge slapped on accounts falling below the P10,000 to P25,000 minimum monthly average daily balance, not to mention the dormancy levies on inactive accounts,” Pimentel said.

The investigation should solve where such charges go, and why the BSP had decided to remove the moratorium, he added.

Pimentel’s statement comes after Makati City Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said on Monday that such fees could potentially harm about 58 million ATM cardholders. These include 4.1 million minimum wage earners who receive and withdraw salaries twice a month through their ATM cards, he added.

Campos filed House Resolution 210 that sought an inquiry that would be “consistent with the State’s duty under a 1992 law to protect the interests and general welfare of consumers and to establish standards of conduct for business.”

The resolution came after the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) issued Memorandum M-2019-020, or the “Lifting the Moratorium on ATM Fees,” on July 19.

The legislator cited a survey showing that banks charge between P10 and P15 for a single interbank withdrawal and P2 for every interbank balance inquiry.

“In this case, we are clearly compelled under “The Consumer Act [of the Philippines],” or Republic Act 7394, to conduct an inquiry so as to safeguard the rights of ATM users,” Campos said.

Regulatory approval needed

In a statement on Tuesday, the BSP clarified that banks needed to secure regulatory approval before jacking up their ATM fees, and assured “the public that its policy on

ATM fees is guided by best industry practices and that it is driven with the broader welfare of consumers in mind.”

The central bank emphasized that it had issued regulations that require banks to adhere to the principles of reasonable and market-based pricing in their ATM operations.

“As such, banks cannot increase the ATM fee on their own. In fact, any bank that intends to adjust ATM fees must file its request with the BSP, indicating their proposed fees, as well as the costs currently incurred by the bank with respect to its ATM activities,” it explained.

Costs declared should be clear, properly supported, and may be validated by regulators when necessary, according to the Bangko Sentral, which stressed that the imposition of set fees arising from agreements between market participants are not allowed.

“In any case, said fees should be lower than the fees collected from transactions made over-the-counter and comply with transparency in pricing,” it said.

The BSP also said each request for an ATM fee hike shall be examined and would be decided if the increase is warranted to cover the cost of maintaining the machines. WITH MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO

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