RICHARD Creary, the mayor of Port Maria, St Mary, has come out against recent hikes in bank fees calling them “insensitive” and urging the Government to step in.
Creary's outburst comes in the aftermath of a Jamaica Observer story on Friday outlining that the country's two major banks, the National Commercial Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia, are planning to increase fees or implement new fees this year.
“I think the whole approach the banks have taken is a bit insensitive,” he told the Observer in a short interview.
“There needs to be some engagement between the Government and the banks to, one, look at the necessity of the increases and perhaps to look at the overall fee structure to determine if it is necessary to have some of these fees in the first place, much less to be increasing them,” Creary said.
His call echoes that of St Catherine South Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson, who lambasted the banks last week for raising fees. Jackson, who has tabled a private member's motion in Parliament aimed at controlling the banks ability to implement fees, blamed the Government, who used its majority in 2018 to defeat his proposed amendments to the Banking Services Act.
“The Government has allowed the banks to penalise depositors for having monies in the bank,” Jackson told the Observer last week.
For Creary, however, “It's not a partisan issue. Something needs to be done to see how we can curtail these fees. I am on the side of the customers. I am a customer in both banks.”
Creary, who is also a JLP deputy general secretary, says his “party is aware that the Jamaican people cannot afford an increase at this time”.
He added in a release that the governing JLP was calling on the Government of Jamaica to do something. He said, “We have heard the concerns of the Jamaican people and are urging the Government to work with the banks to find ways to avoid any increases at this time. The pandemic has added significant pressures to citizens and small businesses alike. Increases in bank fees at this time may be viewed as unconscionable.”
Since the start of 2022, NCB has introduced a $30.95 charge to customers withdrawing from its automated banking machines. Before, NCB customers could do withdrawals at proprietary banking machines for free. Using non-NCB ATMs (Multilink) for withdrawals will cost the bank's customers $60. Balance enquiries will cost $25 each, after the first four for the month. Using international ATMs for withdrawal via the bank's Visa debit card will attract a fee of $500.00 per transaction, among a host of other new fees including a new $500 charge to secure and print an account statement in the branch. The cost is the same for an e-mailed statement. If a customer comes in to make a balance enquiry, or does so by telephone or e-mail, the charge is $296.14 per account.
At Scotiabank, effective February 1, the charge for ATM withdrawals at its proprietary machines is $25 per transaction, and $60 for withdrawals at other banks' ATMs. Rates are less for seniors at $31 per withdrawal. Withdrawals at international ATMs will attract a fee of $312.
Other charges for Scotiabank will take effect on March 1, 2022. These include cash advance fees, loan application processing fees, refinancing fees, mortgage application fees, and more.
Seeing those extra charges for consumers, Creary said against “billions in profits” the banks make each year, they have turned to fees as a means of expanding their bottom lines. Scotiabank recorded $8.4 billion in profits last year, which was down from $9 billion in the prior year. NCB recorded net profit of $14 billion last year which was down from $19 billion in the previous year.
Creary said after talks with the Government, “I would hope that they would curtail the fees.”
He also reiterated issues he had raised previously with banks going cashless, saying it has inconvenienced thousands, especially elderly people.
“They are reducing the service, but increasing the fees,” he added before pointing out, “What normally happens in these cases, NCB and Scotiabank, they take the lead in increasing fees and then the others normally follow.”
But fees are not the only issues Creary is having with banks.
“The JLP is also of the view that the Government must move to deal with issues related to service delivery from the banks to ease the strain being faced by the Jamaican people in doing business with sections of the banking sector,” he added in the release.