By: NATASHA SMITH
AROUND 119,000 people have signed a petition against banks charging customers for using their debit (multibanco) cards in ATM machines.
Petitioners are infuriated by what they describe as “greedy banking practises” as charges could be introduced as early as 2008.
In 2006, profits from the five largest Portuguese banks rose 23 per cent in one year. These five, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Banco Comercial Português, Banco Espírito Santo, Santander Totta and BPI, represent more than 80 per cent of the banking sector and their combined profits topped 2.6 billion euros in 2006.
The bank lobby, which is keen to introduce multibanco charges, has been heavily criticised in recent months but it is unknown at this point whether public pressure will prevail.
The account holders, who could soon be charged for every withdrawal, payment or transfer made using multibanco cards, believe the situation is ridiculous, especially given the boom in banking profits.
They also believe it is ridiculous as no manpower goes into performing these ATM functions and the entire system is electronic.
In July, the Portuguese communist party (PCP) took the petition to the government with 94,433 signatures and proposed that a new law should be implemented on the coattails of this opposition to prohibit the application of fees, commissions, costs or expenses on multibanco operations.
The opposition also called on the government to clarify its position on this subject and impose restrictions on the banking sector. The government said the situation would be carefully reviewed.
In one way or another, the top five banks have suggested that the charges could be implemented in order to sustain the banking sector but many believe this is a smokescreen for fat cat, profit driven greed.
A recent European wide analysis of banking has revealed that Portugal has the most ATMs, or Automatic Teller Machines, in Europe, with 1,508 multibanco machines for every million inhabitants. Spain follows closely in second and in third is the UK.
Portugal also tops the list for having the most convenient and varied operations that can be performed using the machines. There are more than 40 possible functions, including depositing cheques, making payments and transferring money, among others, and banks could impose charges on all operations.
The national ATM system, SIBS, has around 12,000 machines and statistics up until September revealed that the main operations performed using the machines were withdrawals (49 per cent), people checking their accounts (32 per cent) and making payments (16 per cent).
A consortium of the six top European ATM companies, including SIBS, has spearheaded an initiative that will allow many national systems to be interlinked through the machines. The objective is to make multibanco cards compatible with a European system.
It is hoped that, by January, this system will be in place and the 189,000 machines managed by the consortium will be fully compatible and operational.
With a European wide system, could UK or German bank customers also be charged for using Portuguese ATM machines? Although discussions about bank charges have been around for some years in Portugal, it appears that banks are drawing closer to achieving their objectives unless the government steps in to protect consumers.
The website on which customers can oppose these charges and sign the petition can be found at www.petitiononline.com/bancatms. The petition was written by disgruntled bank customer Rui Martins and posted on the website as a public service. Some of the website is in Portuguese but where to sign and view signatures are written in English.
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