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Neophytou declares war on new bank charges (Update 2)

The Bank of Cyprus came under fire from political parties and its customers on Friday after announcing increased commissions and charges, which for the most part have been doubled, and in some instances more than doubled.

The new charges will come into force as of January 13.

“The increases and charges the specific bank announced are provocative. I want to send a clear message to citizens: Some do not realise the power of the legislator. We will NEVER allow these unacceptable intentions to be implemented,” Disy president Averof Neophytou tweeted on Friday, asking the bank to withdraw the new charges.

In a lengthier statement later in the day, Neophytou said he hadn’t noticed any ‘housekeeping’ at the bank’s expense and blamed it for causing the problems in the first place by its actions in the past.

“The increases are targeting the most vulnerable groups of the population,” he said, giving some examples such as the cost of a chequebook, which will rise by 60 per cent.

“It certainly won’t affect a business that has a turnover of millions to pay €40 instead of €25. But for a retiree on €400 or €500, this is a 60 per cent increase.

Neophytou also cited the payment of utility bills from €2 to €5, a 150 per cent hike. “For someone to pay at the end of the month the electricity, water bill, and phone bill will cost €15 them a month,” he added. “If a grandfather goes to withdraw €50 in cash from the bank, either for his shopping or to give a grandson his granddaughter he will have to pay €5. And who has a current account up to €3,000 euros? The poorest of Cyprus?”

Neophytou also commented on credit cards. If a person has a platinum car, he said their increase would be 6 per cent but the charge for the ordinary citizen would be going up 25 per cent.

The banks, he said, have not understood the power of the legislature. “They have a way out. To withdraw their decisions and announcements, otherwise, I would like to send a message to the citizens. Don’t worry because we will never allow them to apply them. I did not expect social sensitivity from the banks but not such social uneasiness, which is the least I can say.”

“They do not want poor clients, they do not want to serve the poor and the small and medium-sized businesses. So simple. They think that these categories of customer are just too much trouble and do not see them as customers. Without having the least social sensitivity, they say their role is to serve. They need to have some self-reflection.”

Asked about online banking, he said: “One thing I cannot understand. We are talking about senior bank leaders whose management results are tied to the results of a country’s economy. Well if they wanted to push people to do their transactions online, I would humbly say there is a way to do it. Motivating their customers to use and make transactions online. And not to punish grandpa and grandma who doesn’t know how to do transactions electronically.”

And though this example I have said cannot be understood, I also question their ability to manage such organizations. Connected to the country’s economy. ”

“This is a repetition of the mistakes of the past. I understand banks need to adopt some measures to solve some problems they face,” Akel general secretary Andros Kyprianou said referring to the long lines created in the branches in combination with the lack of staff.

“But all should be done within reason,” he added.

Both party leaders Neophytou and Kyprianou spoke about injustice towards pensioners who might not be able to use the online 1bank application or a debit/credit card for their transactions.

The high bank charges were also discussed at Wednesday’s House institutions committee because of the many complaints made to members, said the chairman Zacharias Zachariou.

“Charge as much as you want on those that have money. Do not mess with people on low pensions” Zachariou said.

Finance Commissioner Pavlos Ioannou explained on Friday the law for the protection of consumers suggests the new measures announced by the bank can be reviewed by the Central Bank of Cyprus and cancelled in the case they are judged to be negatively affecting vulnerable groups of the population.

The new charges are already published on the bank’s website and include the increase from €2 to €5 for each bill payment taking place at the bank, while customers can purchase a Digipass for €10 and start paying their utility bills via the 1Bank app.

Cash withdrawal will be charged at a rate of one per cent as currently. However, the minimum charge will increase from €0.05 to €0.50 and the maximum to €5 from €2. For withdrawals higher than €15,000, the maximum charge rises to €50.

The quarterly maintenance fee for all current accounts with an overdraft will increase for all legal and physical persons from €3 to €6 for accounts with up to €3,000, from €5 to €10 for accounts with €3,000 to €10,000 and from €35 to €50 for accounts with €10,000- €100,000. The maintenance fee for current accounts without an overdraft, increases from €3 to €6 four times per year. For the latter category that works out at €200 a year and that’s only one section of the charges.

All the statement printing and mailing cost will be charged €6 instead of €3.

The interest rate for debit and credit cards and eCredit cards issued through 1bank is expected to increase one per cent. The annual charges for Visa and Mastercard Classic increases to €12,50 from €10, Visa and Mastercard Gold €55 from €50, Visa and Mastercard Platinum to €90 from €85.

Physical and legal persons will be charged €40 to issue a chequebook instead of €25, whereas special presentation cheques will be issued for €40 instead of or €20.

One furious customer told the Cyprus Mail: “Many people don’t make a lot of money or they get paid in installments, which can come late. Now I will be charged €6 euro every three months just to have an account with the bank.”

He added: “Also, why the scale? For example, if I have up to €3,000 in my account, I’ll get charged €10 every three months.  Many people have something like €200 in their accounts by the end of the month if they’re lucky so why should they be charged €6?”

Said another customer: “I thought the whole point of online banking was to reduce charges for the banks, and subsequently the customer, by making the use of technology more widespread. Sounds like a big con when they have less paperwork but end up charging more in fees. Will there ultimately be a fee to enter the bank that you have to pay at the door? I think it’s time to go and buy a new mattress with lots of hiding places.”

A source within the bank said there cannot be special charges for people over 65 since according to the lender’s legal service, the EU’s Payment Services Directive PSD2 strictly forbids discrimination, even positive discrimination based on age.

Instructions were given however for tellers to take into consideration each customer’s personal circumstances.

“There is indeed a war on [bad] cheques which is like a plague and the small and medium-sized businesses pay the price,” the sources said.

The new charges are also aimed at making the bank’s customers turn to its online services where it is cheaper to carry out transactions, or free of charge.

“This is where the future lies,” the source said, adding that mobile phones had become the lender’s biggest outlet. Seventy-five per cent of the bank’s transactions are already being carried out outside of the cashier’s till,” they said.

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