Jumaat, Disember 16, 2005

Bank fees hike irk consumer groups

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz

Consumer groups have come out strongly against local banks which they say are flouting guidelines on savings and current account charges issued by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).

“We are dissatisfied with how commercial banks are imposing unfair charges and with BNM for failing to enforce its guidelines,” said Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) treasurer-general Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman today.

“What we wish to raise at this point is the failure of an authority such as BNM to enforce regulations that they themselves made.

“We do not want these guidelines to serve as a mere gimmick to appease consumers,” he added.

Yusof was speaking to reporters during a protest that took place in front of an RHB Bank branch in Petaling Jaya. The protest was jointly-organised with the National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) and Era Consumer (Era).

Last January, a flood of complaints forced the central bank to issue guidelines on fees that can be imposed by banks on current and savings accounts and services, as well as for online transactions.

The guidelines, among others, limits half yearly service charges to RM10 for current account monthly balances of less than RM1,000. The guidelines also stipulate that banks provide for eight free automated-teller machine (ATM) cash withdrawals per month.

Banks, however, were not only charging for less than eight ATM cash withdrawals a month, but had, in other instances, also increased the charges, said Yusof.

Cannot afford

One such bank was RHB which recently notified its My1 current account holders that effective January 2006, RM5 would be deducted every month if their daily average balance fell below RM5,000.

Yusof (right) said the protest was held in front of the particular branch as Fomca, NCCC, and their staff members held current accounts there.

NCCC chairman Darshan Singh had more to say on RHB’s announcement.

“How do you expect a person to have a RM5,000 account balance every month?” he asked. “The average annual income of the population is RM18,000, which approximates RM1,500 monthly. At the end of the day, everybody will have to pay. That's the bottom line,” he added.

“The average Malaysian cannot afford to have more than RM5,000 in their current account. It's tantamount to saying, ‘Yes, you must pay’. Customers are being fooled.”

Darshan said increases in charges were occurring not only at RHB but at other banks as well.

“It’s not only RHB. We’re talking about all banks,” he said, adding that Maybank still charges 50 sen for cash withdrawals at ATMs exceeding four times a month.

RHB Bank Desa Tunku branch manager Beh Kok Lee, who received the groups’ protest letter, said he would relay it to the bank’s headquarters.

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