Rabu, Januari 19, 2005

Internet banking fee, Maybank customers cry foul

Claudia Theophilus

Scores of Maybank2u.com customers are furious over a recent move by the country’s largest banking group, Maybank Group, to impose a RM12 annual fee for Internet banking services effective Dec 20.

An announcement on the Maybank2u.com website said the charges would be auto-debited from the customer’s account every six-months with “unlimited log-on access for the six-month period”. It is unclear what “unlimited” means.

First-time users are allowed a one-month free use of the online services but have to subsequently subscribe if they want to continue using the “time-saving” and convenient facilities.

The notice promised customers that they will “always receive quality products and services” in line with the Maybank2u.com’s goals.

The decision has elicited a barrage of criticism stemming from large amounts of frustration and anger over Maybank’s unsatisfactory Internet banking services.

Common gripes over Maybank2u.com’s services include slow page downloads, poor service after 7pm, not online for 24 hours and that some transactions still have to be done at the ATMs.

Hundreds of e-mails are sharing the exchanges between customers’ complaints to the Maybank Group Contact Centre (MGCC) about the move and the standard-format response from the bank.

‘Dirty tactic’

Based on the complaints and queries, customers are miffed over what they describe as “a dirty tactic to rake in instant millions”.

They said Maybank was playing dirty by initially offering the online services for free before signing up millions of users and then charging them a minimal fee once critical mass was achieved, making instant millions.

But a formatted e-mail reply from the MGCC sent by a Nur Azween Yahya to Maybank2u.com customers reminded them of their agreement to the “terms and conditions governing its usage” and cited Clause 18:1 which referred to “service charge or transaction fees”.

Maybank currently charges 50 sen for each Touch ‘N Go top-up, 50 sen for every ATM withdrawal from the 5th withdrawal onwards, RM2 per online interbank transfer of funds and the latest is RM1 per month for Internet banking customers.

The standard reply pointed out the wider range of services offered such as interbank transfers, 3rd party transfers, e-SI and mobile phone services following an upgrade from checking account balance and bill payments.

The reply highlighted the bank’s enhanced security feature as being part of the “advanced features” or recent upgrades done to Maybank2u.com.

Nur Azween said the minimal monthly fee of RM1 was not too much to ask for being able to “initiate countless banking transactions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” from the “comfort of your office or home”.

“You are still enjoying all the services without the hassle of going to the banks or visiting the payment counters. You don’t have to think of paying tolls, traffic jams, parking woes or reschedule your busy life for one simple banking transaction.” (sic)

She said that choosing to unsubscribe will cancel the customer’s access to Maybank2u.com altogether.

“As an alternative, you may use our other delivery channels, such as our Kawanku ATMs, KawanKu Phone Banking or the conventional way of doing banking - Maybank branches,” she added in the e-mail response.

Senseless move

An unconvinced customer said the bank’s rationale to impose a surcharge on Internet banking did not make any sense because it is charging people for “using the delivery channel that is the most cost-effective and efficient to the bank”.

The customer also claimed that such a move was a first in Malaysia and possibly the region.

“Moreover, this charging is on top of existing monthly account fee, monthly transaction fee, ATM charges, etc,” read the customer’s e-mail to MGCC.

On Nov 8, the Maybank Group announced a pre-tax profit of RM793.2 million for Q3 this year, an increase of 13.2 percent compared to the corresponding period last year while post-tax profit rose 11 percent to RM555 million for the period ending September 2004 compared to the RM501.2 million last year.

A customer said it was unclear from the information posted on the Maybank2u.com website if customers will be charged beginning Dec 20 or whether the system software changes would be implemented on that date.

“There should be a sufficient grace period of between a few weeks and a month to online customers to cancel their subscription before charging becomes effective.”

Some customers have also accused Maybank2u.com of discriminatory practices based on Maybank Singapore’s website where no such charges were announced for account holders there.

“Does it mean that only the online customers with RM (Ringgit Malaysia) account in Maybank here will be charged? If this is so, then I think it is highly irresponsible for Maybank to deceive online customers with RM accounts ... to defray the system cost.”

‘Clumsy’ service

Other customers who maintained several accounts - savings, current and credit cards - were worried about incurring high additional charges.

“That means I would have to pay RM36 a year to use the online facility for my three accounts!” exclaimed a disgruntled customer in an e-mail to MGCC.

“Question is, is this fair? Isn’t online banking supposed to be one of the ‘features’ (that) attract more customers? Why did (Maybank) not charge account holders earlier but only decide to do it now?”

A frustrated customer complained about services being “always clumsy and annoying”.

“The untrained staff always give out incorrect information and then ask us to be more patient, which costs us more money and time. Now they want us to pay more for the services which we deserve as customers.”

Most customers were unwilling to pay the banking surcharges because they felt that Internet banking was now a standard in the industry and a service offered by every bank at no extra cost.

“There are no charges by large foreign banks. Furthermore, a move like this could well set a bad precedent for other local banks to follow,” were the sentiments expressed in the e-mails.

“(If) your Maybank2u team does not bring in enough profit, it’s not the consumers’ problem,” read another e-mails to the MGCC.

Many customers were also angered by the use of a template or copy-and-paste format when replying to the hundreds of e-mails with differing queries.

Some customers, upset with Maybank’s customer service division for adopting a ‘tidak apa’ (couldn’t-care-less) attitude and in responding very late to their queries, said foreign banks always took the time to give a “more constructive reply”.

Only financial institutions registered under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act 1989 and the Islamic Banking Act 1983 are allowed to offer Internet banking services with approval from Bank Negara, the country’s central bank.

Meanwhile an online petition has also been mooted for Maybank customers to sign their disapproval over the subscription fee. Account holders are encouraged to sign the petition before Dec 19.

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