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Bank charges slammed as unfair to small depositors
8 June 2009
The Standard

Hong Kong banks have been accused of trying to force out small account holders by dumping a raft of charges on them, a concern group says.

Civil Force has also called on the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to monitor banks more closely and pressure them into dropping unnecessary charges and to make concessions to the elderly, students and people on the dole.

The group says some banks charge HK$20 to HK$30 for people to settle their credit card bills over the counter. There is no charge at ATM machines.

Civil Force policy research convenor and Sha Tin district councillor Leung Ka-fai said a survey of 10 major banks showed ICBC (Asia) had 260 charge items.

At least five other banks had more than 100. Leung said most of the charges were unfair and excessive. HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, Bank of East Asia, DBS and Wing Hang Bank charged customers for settling their credit card bills over the counter, he said.

Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank did not provide this service.

But Citibank even charged HK$200 a month for accounts with less than HK$30,000. Other banks had similar charges, such as HK$50 to HK$60 for accounts with less than HK$5,000.

If customers closed their new bank accounts in the first three to six months, they would be charged between HK$30 and HK$500 depending on bank policy.

Customers who have lost their safety deposit box keys are subject to a penalty of up to HK$1,000.

Leung accused the banks of trying to edge out small account holders.

"We are angry over the bank charging policies. For instance, it is unfair for customers to be charged if they feel unhappy with the service and decide to close their new accounts," he said.

Based on the survey of 565 people conducted in April and May, about half said they were unclear about the different bank charges.

Civil Force said banks should waive their "administrative" charges on the elderly, students and those on the dole.

"The Hong Kong Monetary Authority should regularly review the banks' charging policies and pressure them to drop those found to be unreasonable and excessive. We hope the banks will seriously look into the issues we have raised." Leung said.

"They should have a social responsibility to provide the community with a friendly one-stop financial service which is the key to Hong Kong as a world financial hub."
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