All steamed up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong has a reputation for being a good place to park hot money, the result of liberal investment rules, an unstable global economy and our proximity to the mainland's multiplying wealth. It goes into bank accounts, the stock market and the property sector. Still, you might not expect it to come out of an ATM. Yet there it was, one recent Saturday, sitting in my hand after I had made a withdrawal.

Don't think that I'm a big-time money-mover or expert in tracking transactions. This was hot money of another sort, a type becoming increasingly common as banks try to make even greater profits and our steamy summer months take hold. Outside business hours, the air-conditioning in the rooms housing ATM machines is often turned off to reduce electricity bills. On a typically sultry Saturday, what should be an unremarkable experience turns into a clothes-drenching visit to a sauna.

There I was at a bank branch in North Point, eager to grab some cash and cool down with a few frosty beers, only to find myself in a long queue in a hothouse. Within seconds the sweat was flowing and I was tempted to seek the chill of a 7-Eleven. However, my indignation at being so poorly treated after years of customer loyalty pulled me through and, 10 minutes later, four crisp HK$100 notes popped into my hand. They were instantly turned into a mushy heap of soggy paper.

I appreciate that banks have gone through a rough patch because of the financial crisis and have shareholders to keep happy. Still, the low interest they offer means that after their steep charges, I seem to be paying them for the privilege. Being kept cool while withdrawing cash in the summer should be the least we can expect. It should never be an occasion to get hot under the collar.