CYPRUS’ banks, which closed for the Easter holiday last Thursday, will not open again until this coming Thursday. The last time they remained closed for such an extended period was during the crisis of 2013 and back then there was a very good reason for it. This year, the protracted closures are simply because of the coincidence of public holidays – Easter and May Day – falling so close to each other.
Yet, the strange thing is that the Tuesday after Easter is not a public holiday. It is another ‘conquest’ of the bank employees’ union, Etyk, in a country which already has far too many public holidays. In March there were two public holidays, swiftly followed by another on April 1. In most countries it is unheard for the banks to be closed for more days than the public sector, but Cyprus is the exception thanks to the power wielded by Etyk and bank boards too fearful to stand up to it.
It is true that the extended closure is the result of the Tuesday after Easter falling just before May 1, but why had the banks not taken the decision to open on Tuesday because of this circumstance? We can only assume it was because they would rather inconvenience their customers than become involved in a dispute with a militant union that has been accustomed to calling the shots at the banks for decades.
There is online banking nowadays, it could be said, and people can carry out their business even if the banks are closed. They can withdraw cash from an ATM, but no online transactions are processed when banks are on holiday and these are put on hold. While businesses may be aware of this and plan their transactions around the holidays, it is still not an acceptable state of affairs in a country that wants to call itself an international business centre and is busy trying to attract foreign companies to Cyprus. Banks that stop serving their customers at 3pm and have a record number of public holidays do not contribute towards achieving this objective.
With the advent of online banking, bank opening hours are gradually becoming irrelevant. But this development increases the competition to traditional banks. There are now banks without branches, operating exclusively online and providing most banking services at a much lower cost to the customer. Many customers of the traditional banks could move their business to these new banking establishments when they feel they are not getting the service they expect. Etyk should also consider the changing conditions, because the only way to safeguard jobs is to put the bank customer first.