Customers protest over new bank fees

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2006, 12:00am

The elderly and low-income earners are being targeted, say marchers

A group of small depositors marched to the Association of Banks in Central yesterday to protest against banks imposing new charges.

The 20 protesters, most of them middle-aged and led by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said banks were discriminating against low-income earners and poor people by targeting them with the charges.

On Monday Wing Hang, Dah Sing and Mevas banks imposed a series of new charges on accounts whose balances fell below specific limits.

The members of the group, who said they held small deposits at banks, said the increases in bank service charges hurt them financially and they were not properly informed about the fee adjustments.

They handed a petition to the association a day after the three banks raised charges on different services on Monday.

Wing Hang Bank, for example, increased the monthly service charge from $40 to $50 on accounts with less than $5,000.

Ng Fan-kan, senior co-ordinator at the DAB's Kowloon City division, criticised banks for ignoring underprivileged customers. He also criticised banks, including Wing Hang, for failing to inform customers properly about new fees.

'It's unreasonable. Many people don't have the ability to achieve the average balance of $5,000 in their saving accounts. The banks are discriminating against poor people by charging them,' Mr Ng said. 'Some elderly people cannot read and the banks should inform them by phone.'

But Association of Banks senior manager Grace Law Wai said the association could only give guidelines to banks on service charges since the interest-rate agreement was scrapped in 2001. Banks said they regularly updated service charges and insisted that clear notices had been sent to customers.

Some banks also said customers aged over 65, under 18 or living on social welfare have been exempted from those charges.

Wing Hang Bank said customers could apply for linked accounts, so they could be exempted from the new charge if their combined balance exceeded $5,000.

A Wing Hang Bank spokeswoman said adjustments of service charges have been made every year based on costs and market conditions. She would not say how many customers would be affected.

Hang Seng Bank announced last month it would impose a $50 monthly charge on all savings accounts with less than $5,000 from July 1.

A Hang Seng Bank spokeswoman said this was in line with industry practice and standardised charges across the board in order to avoid confusion for customers.