Cyprus Mail
Opinion

Tales from the Coffeeshop: When Averof Hood went after the banks

he banks have been warned: Averof Neophytou will not let them increase their charges ‘for the poor’. How he intends to see that through is another matter

ALTHOUGH the assault on the banks began at the legislature on Wednesday, the main offensive was launched on Friday by Disy chief Averof Neophytou in the role of supreme commander of the forces fighting for our impoverished grandfathers and grandmothers who from next year will be faced with higher banks charges.

He was backed by the artillery of Diko, which defended the interests of the lower middle classes that would also be fleeced by the increased bank charges that come into effect in January. In fact, everyone will be fleeced, but Averof and Diko were quite right to point out that the higher charges will be felt particularly by the low earners and people on low pensions.

The increases are extortionate said Averof who gave a list of example – for the issue of a cheque book the increase is 60 per cent (from €25 to €40), withdrawing cash at the counter and payment of utility bills a 150 per cent increase (€2 up to €5); administration of overdraft account up by 100 per cent (from €3 to €6). He gave more examples to make the point that these amounts would hurt low income groups and to slam the “social callousness” of the fat cats running the banks that were completely lacking in “social reflexes”. We fully back the Averof offensive, but it is difficult to see how he will defeat the banks. They are doing nothing illegal or new in ripping off their customers. This is what they have always done, the only thing that changes is the extent.

 

THE SUGGESTION that they should adopt a socialist pricing policy, charging each customer according to their income seems rather unrealistic. Will elderly pensioners have to take a certificate showing they have grandchildren so they can be charged grandparent rates for cashing a cheque?

And how could someone prove they belong to the lower middle class (a social group most people would kill to get out of) so to be charged less when paying their electricity bill? Would the bank teller have to make a snap decision about what charges each customer has to pay?

This part of the plan remains unclear, even though Averof declared on Friday that he called on the banks to rescind the decision on the higher charges. “Otherwise I send the message that it will never be put into practice. I say the banks have not understood the power of the lawmaker and I believe I am very specific,” said Averof, explaining there was no way a law would be passed for appearances’ sake, only to be be ruled unconstitutional.

He did not elaborate, leaving everyone wondering how the legislature could dictate to a company what it should charge its customers for the services it provides. If they can do this to the banks, they could then go for other businesses that overcharge grandfathers and grandmothers like supermarkets, tavernas etc.

 

SEVERAL explanations have been given for the banks’ higher charges, which are supposedly intended to make people use e-banking rather than go to a branch.

Diko said behind the bank bosses’ argument about “modernisation hides the effort to lower operational costs, through the reduction of the number of workers as everything would be done electronically.”

Averof was blunter in his explanation. “They do not want poor people as customers, they do not want to serve the poor and the lower middle classes. That simple. They consider them a bother, they are not customers.”

Both explanations are plausible, to a point, but they ignore a basic point – a bank will charge you even if you are using e-banking and not taking up the time of their tellers, as one person, who decided to change his access code on the advice of the bank found out. Once he changed the code, he was charged by the bank, perhaps because he was not a grandfather.

The only thing the banks are not charging for yet is the conversation a customer has with the bank teller when he goes to make a deposit or withdraw cash. But we could receive a circular one of these days informing us: conversation of up to 40 words with teller, €3; conversation of 41 to 100 words, €6; exchange of pleasantries with bank manager passing by, €5.

 

SPEAKING of banks, an irate skettos drinker could not be controlled when he entered our establishment after an angry exchange with his banker. “They blocked all my company’s bank accounts – you cannot even make a deposit – because we did not send the information for updating their records. It makes no difference that the bank never asked for the information, only sending an email requesting it urgently after the account had been blocked. How is that for customer service?

“And to think, we have no NPLs. We, quite stupidly, meet our obligations. Of course, the bank staff have no responsibility, blaming the computer system for automatically blocking the accounts without any warning.

“Once you provide them with the information needed, you are told that three or four days are needed to unblock the accounts because they have to receive authorisation from compliance, other departments and maybe the archbishop. And to top it all you have bank employees getting all defensive, telling you they had spent the last three hours trying to sort out your problem for which they are exclusively to blame.

“It is all part of Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations the banker offers by way of lame explanation that makes me see red. You’ve known me for more than 30 years, the only thing you don’t know about me is how I look without clothes on, but if your computer wants a picture I will send one, or better still I will bring one when you invite me to meet it so you can KYC.

“Now I expect to be charged a couple of hundred euros for bank work required to unblock the account. I am so mad, I am ready to volunteer as a commando in Averof’s offensive.”

Advertisement in Paphos for investing in Cyprus which can lead to citizenship

THE COMMUNICATIONS strategy undertaken to limit the damage done to the government and Prez Nik by the passport stories proved an unmitigated disaster. If I were Nik I would ask for my money back given that the strategy turned into a damage exaggeration in the last week, with almost everyone joining the attacks on the government.

Last Sunday’s Politis scoop about the Malaysian fugitive Jho Taek Low who had been given Cyprus citizenship in 2015, admittedly before becoming a wanted man, made it the story of the week. Even Nik joined in the fun and said that Low’s passport should be revoked.

The opportunity was seized by the parties to indulge in some of the heavy-duty moralising they specialise in, when a week before the damage limitation exercise commenced, only Akel was making a public fuss about the passports. The story about Low even got a mention in the Financial Times, which could not have been part of the communications strategy’s plans.

And then it emerged Archbishop Chrysostomos was also involved in the matter having written to the interior minister to put in a good word for Low, who had invested in a villa built on land that the church had sold to a developer. The church received a 300 grand cheque from Low for the archbishop’s help, money that is said to have gone to the Theological School, together with a picture of Low to hang on a wall together with other benefactors of the school.

 

THE BANK of Cyprus, meanwhile, boasted that its system had alerted it about Low. Bank staff carried out an investigation and at the beginning of October 2015 reported the case to the fraud office Mokas, while a few days later closed his two accounts. Was it a coincidence that the two accounts were closed only after Low had paid the developer and the archbishop on September 22 and 23, 2015 respectively?

As the B of C said, the accounts had been opened in June of that year, so it seemed very strange that the computer alerted nobody for three months and only did so after the couple of million euros were paid to the developer. Did the BoC computer have no urge to engage in KYC regarding Low, before he bought the real estate and secured his passport?

Or perhaps the archbishop called and told the computer not to alert the bankers until after the deal was sealed and payment made.

 

UNABLE to cope with the public pressure and the scathing comments against him on social media Prez Nik felt obliged to do something, so after Wednesday’s council of ministers’ meeting, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides announced that 26 citizenships would be revoked, including Low and the eight Cambodians that featured in a Reuters’ report a few weeks earlier.

Were the rest chosen by lottery draw? Anyway, Petrides said the council had authorised him to carry out checks on all citizenships granted before this year, when stricter criteria were imposed. These checks would then be submitted to a three-member committee that would carry out additional checks and submit a report to the cabinet.

Considering more than 3,000 citizenships were granted by the end of last year the process might take a while to be completed or could be dropped once the issue is no longer in the news.

 

IF HE were a head of state the visit of House President Demetris Syllouris to China, with an entourage of deputies, would not have received so much coverage in our media. But he has taken a Tass News Agency reporter with him and we have daily reports about his activities. He is engaging in the economic diplomacy that our foreign minister has been promoting and he has been there for a week. The next step is for composer John Adams to write an opera Syllouris in China. If an opera was good enough for Richard Nixon it should be good enough for Syllouris.

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