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Portugal’s banks push to charge for ATM cards

Published on 10/05/2019

Portugal’s government has warned the nation’s bank chiefs that issuing free ATM banks cards to customers must continue as it is the current law that charges are not made for this facility.

In response to banking CEOs pushing for a €20 charge per card per year, the Secretary of State for Consumer Protection stated that he is not going to have the law changed just to enable banks to charge customers.

The law states that the collection of fees for debits at ATMs is prohibited.

The Secretary of State is well aware that the heads of BCP, BPI, CGD and Novo Banco all have been bleating that ATMs should either be paid for or have uniform criteria throughout the euro zone, making ATMs and card use free to all.

In the case of MB Way and other private services, there is no law prohibiting charges, with the need for transparency thus paramount.

Vinai Prangivan, an economist at DECO, the Consumer Protection Association, believes that Europe should replicate the Portuguese example in the free use of ATM, not vice versa.

“Portugal should use this as a flag of good practice in the defence of consumer interests and in promoting competition and transparency so that other countries do the same,” argues the economist.

For DECO, the arguments of the bank to justify the collection of these commissions do not make sense.

The economist also argues that it is “absurd” to collect fees to use MB Way.

Paulo Macedo, of Caixa Geral de Depósitos, said that the bank’s understanding, “is that if it is a service issue, if the service has value, it should be paid for because it is not fair to think that bank employees should not be remunerated for the service they provide.”

António Ramalho, leader of the Novo Banco, said, “it is very difficult out there to explain that the ATM is a subsidized service.” Ramalho also considered that “€20 is not expensive for a card “that can carry out a remarkable set of functions.”

Ramalho’s basic pay was €382,000 last year, so €20 is not much money from his point of view but the insult to many of his customers will have been noted.

On Tuesday, during Santander Totta’s results presentation, the bank’s chief executive, Pedro Castro and Almeida, had repeatedly criticized the exemption of charges for customers of the ATM system.

“Here in Portugal we have interesting situation with no ATM fees, and this has costs for the bank, just as MB Way has costs for the bank,” said Pedro Castro and Almeida.

All the banks conveniently forget the vast savings on branch staff numbers, as having an ATM machine available reduces the number of transactions in the bank itself, hence the need for fewer employees.