The Federal Government’s ATM Taskforce has delivered a mixed bag for consumers in its reports on transparency and competition according to the Consumer Action Law Centre. The Centre lauded moves to abolish ATM fees in remote communities and an apparent move towards upfront cost disclosure, but was disappointed the report has moved Australia no closer to implementing free balance enquiries.
Carolyn Bond, co-CEO of Consumer Action, said the shining light in the Taskforce’s work was the move to abolish ATM fees in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. ‘Once implemented, this reform will make a huge difference to residents in these remote communities. We’ve heard stories of people spending 20 per cent of their income on ATM fees, so scrapping these fees will offer genuine financial relief.
‘Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) has been lobbying on this issue for some time. It’s great to see that the Federal Government and the banking industry have acknowledged the problems these remote communities face, and are doing something that will make a tangible difference to the financial wellbeing of community members,’ said Ms Bond.
Consumer Action is also pleased that the Government seems to be moving towards upfront disclosure of ATM fees – a move that will ensure greater cost transparency because ATM users know how much they’ll be charged before they use the service.
‘This is one of very few services where you don’t know how much you’ll be charged until you’re quite far into the transaction. Advertising the cost up front would mean greater transparency, increased competition and put downward pressure on costs,’ said Ms Bond.
But the Centre lamented that the report didn’t advocate for ATM operators to provide free account balance checks on all machines. Ms Bond said that, given personal finance and banking was largely electronic these days, it is increasingly important that people can easily find out how much money they have in their account without being hit by a fee.
‘Both governments and banks talk about the importance and need to improve Australia’s financial literacy and offering free balance checks at all ATMs would be a simple way to help do this. Many Australians have mobile phone apps which allow them to check their bank account, but lower income Australians and less tech savvy consumers don’t have that option and are faced with paying a fee just to check their bank balance.
‘The report says that, given there are a number of other ways customers can check their balance, paying for the service at an ATM is a matter of convenience rather than necessity but, quite simply, this overlooks the fact that not everyone has access to the internet and that those who don’t are being unfairly affected,’ said Ms Bond.
Media contact: Dan Simpson, 0413 299 567