ST. VINCENT-Finance Minister peeved at high bank charges


The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government is expressing concern at the taxes being imposed by banks on customers, particularly those using the automated teller machines (ATM).

Finance Minister Camilo Gonsalves said that the financial institutions operating here were “ripping off Vincentians in the use of ATM cards” and his ministry is still gathering data on the issue.

Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves

Gonsalves said he also intend to meet with bank officials to discuss the situation.

“But if the conversation doesn’t yield results, we will have to go to a legislative route in this regard and I just want to alert the public and the banks on this particular issue,” he told reporters.

Gonsalves said that the charges run the gamut from “acceptable to unacceptable and I have been gathering information on these issues and the information shocks the conscience”.

He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines is “the most cash-dependent nation in the Caribbean” and that the island has ‘fewer ATM machines, fewer bank branches, fewer credit cards, fewer digital points of sale than our neighbouring countries”.

He said earlier this year he had held “quiet’ talks with the banks on the ATM issue and that among his inquiries were the small numbers of ATMs and why are there so many places that only take cash or cheque payments.

He said the banks informed that it is “something peculiar about the Vincentian psyche, that Vincentians want to come in with their cheque book and they want to fill out the forms and so on, they want somebody to write on their little stubs and so on.”

But the finance minister said he rejected that argument.

“I don’t accept that we are so different from Grenadians or St. Lucians or Bajans or Antiguans that we feel a need to stand up in a bank line. I am sure that people will be happy to use ATMs and I encouraged them at the time to increase the number of ATMs and to make it more easy for people to get their money without going into a bank.”

Gonsalves said that ober the past few weeks people have been sharing with him screenshots showing a bank charging as much as two per cent of the value of a withdrawal if it is done at another bank’s ATM.

He said in one instance, a customer was charged in excess of EC$50 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) for an EC$2,000 withdrawal, because the ATM used did not belong to the bank to which the customer belonged.

“So two per cent of $2,000 is $40 plus another eight dollars … plus another eight dollars You are up to $56 to take your own money out of your account. That can’t be right. It can’t be right.

“And the idea that you have to charge someone a percentage of what they are withdrawing certainly shocks my conscience. It’s one thing to say there is a fixed fee… people will find an equilibrium; they will decide what they are comfortable with but to charge someone a percentage of what they are withdrawing and such a high percentage is shocking,” Gonsalves said, adding that the modus operandi of banks is to charge people “a whole set of fees”.

Gonsalves said he had also discussed the issues with the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Timothy Antoine.

“I am still compiling the data. Not all of the banks have responded to me but I have sent a questionnaire to all of the banks and from the credit union to the banks themselves, and they have been sending me what they do. And none of what they do now is currently illegal but we will have to make it so if we cannot have a useful and productive conversation with the banks.

“I hope that people can vote with their feet. If one bank is out of whack in terms of fees, hopefully, customers would migrate to another bank, but, at the same time, some of these fees are very high and the promises that were made to the Ministry of Finance at the beginning of the year about increasing the number of ATM access points around the country, there have been no ATM machines added in the nine months since we had that conversation — not one,” Gonsalves told reporters.

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