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It’s an assault! Symmonds: ATM regulations unfair to low-income people

Article by Colville Mounsey – Taken from the Nation News Paper September 16, 2021

MINISTER OF ENERGY, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Kerrie Symmonds has now added his voice to the public outcry against increased bank fees and cumbersome regulations for the use of automated teller machines (ATM).

The minister especially took umbrage to the decision by some banks to institute a withdrawal minimum of $50 from the ATM, arguing that the move runs counter to the goal of becoming a cashless society, while alienating poor people and micro businesses that depend on small cash transactions.

Not mincing words in expressing his views on the recent hot button issue, Symmonds told the DAILY NATION: “This is an assault on both convenience to low-income people and an assault on the necessities of life for low-income people. I want to be very very clear on this issue. To withdraw small amounts of money from an ATM machine is for thousands of Barbadians, not only their highest level of convenience but it is also a necessity.”

‘Little choice’

He lamented further: “There are still many traders and micro businesses in this country that must be reached by low-income people and these businesses can operate only on the basis of cash, and while for some, it might seem to be petty cash, or what some higher up and better off people contemptuously call chump change, for others it is the staff of life because many of our people have little choice but to trade in cash.”

However, president of the Barbados Bankers’ Association, Anthony Clerk, said he had not received any such reports of banks instituting $50-minimum withdrawals, promising that the matter would be raised when the associationmeets today.

As it relates to ATM fees, Clerk said he believed this was likely to be temporary, as it might be linked to the transitioning of some financial institutions away from CARIFS to either the visa or mastercard platforms.

“As far as I know the banks have not increased the fees that cardholders would pay for using another bank’s ATM. We certainly didn’t increase ours at Republic Bank. It could be because we are transitioning from the CARIF’s network to the visa or mastercard platforms and it could have something to do with that. I suspect that this may be temporary, if that is indeed the case, and when everyone is on the new cards and we have a new agreement from these companies, the fees would likely come down,” explained Clerk.

Slamming the limitations in ATM withdrawals as discriminatory, Symmonds said that within the Barbados economy there was still a requirement for small sums of cash in hand.

An unnecessary inconvenience, says Symmonds

“So tell me at this point how else can the so-called ‘coolie man’ be paid? How is the coconut and newspaper vendor to be paid? How are the vast majority of shopkeepers all about Barbados to be paid? How is the banker’s gardener paid? How does the operator of the ZR and minibus and the jet ski get paid?” he queried.

On Tuesday the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) joined the recent throng of criticism against the banking sector over this issue as well as other protocols.

General secretary Dennis De Peiza lamented that customers were now limited to a $50 minimum withdrawal from ATMs and also criticised the policy of customers without an account being denied the ability to cash a cheque at a bank where the cheque payable is lodged.

“We are sending some very serious mixed signals to the public. We have championed the cause of the ease of doing business, we have spoken to the empowerment of people, we have spoken to the enfranchisement of people, but the behaviour of the banking sector seems to be running contrary to all of that,” said De Peiza.

This is a view with which the minister made it clear that he wholeheartedly concurred, calling for these types of initiatives to be shelved until cashless options were available to all at low cost.

“It is a requirement for many of the elderly in underprivileged communities of Barbados who must continue to be able to purchase goods from the shop and take the taxi to the doctor and to exist in a world where cash is utilised,” Symmonds said.

He further stressed: “I feel that this has not been thought through and I feel that this is in danger of becoming a monstrous nonsense and an unnecessary inconvenience that must be reigned until in such time as this society is able to adequately accommodate access to all by way of the technology at low cost to all. Until then, financial service providers in Barbados have to continue to facilitate those whose circumstances do not allow them to do anything other than rely on cash.”  

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