Government pressed on access to bank services

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2008, 12:00am

The government has been urged to help the elderly and low-income groups affected by the closure of bank branches in their areas.

The call came during a meeting of the Legislative Council financial affairs panel, during which lawmakers accused the banking industry of shirking its community responsibility by closing branches, especially in areas with more low-income people.

Legislator Mandy Tam Heung-man said many senior citizens had to walk long distances for bank services after the closure of branches near their homes.

'Can banks open more branches in areas with more old people? It is very hard for them,' Ms Tam said.

Unionist legislator Wong Kwok-hing criticised the banks, saying they appeared to target high-income earners by opening branches in places where the wealthy lived. 'Banks completely neglect their responsibility to serve the public. They are walking backwards.'

Raymond Lee, acting chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Banks, denied that there were fewer bank branches in the city.

'Compared with 2006, there are 36 more branches in Hong Kong, making a total of more than 2,500. And the newly opened branches are not limited to wealthy areas.

'For example, of the 36 new branches, 10 are in Kwun Tong,' Mr Lee said.

Angelina Kwan Yuen-yee, principal assistant secretary for financial services and the Treasury, said the Housing Authority was discussing with banks to see what could be done to attract more branches in public-housing estates.

'One of these measures is over the size of the leased area. Is there any particular size the banks are looking for? Also, are there any facilities inside they may need?' Ms Kwan said.

She rejected a suggestion, however, that the government consider allowing post offices - which can be found in most public-housing estates - to offer bank services.

'Such a suggestion is difficult to implement as it involves complicated procedures and monitoring. However, we remain open to the idea of setting up ATMs inside post offices.'

Lawmakers passed a motion pressing the government to establish a taskforce to monitor the closure of bank branches across the city and to devise a policy to help vulnerable people get access to bank services.

They also requested that the government submit a report on the issue in six months.

The Consumer Council told the meeting that complaints about automated teller machines had increased from 27 in 2006 to 35 last year. There had been eight complaints in the first three months of this year.

The council said that most of these complaints had been about the accuracy of the machines, particularly over amounts dispensed during cash withdrawal. It urged the banks to improve ATM accuracy and reliability.

Money machine

Banks have been criticised for closing branches in poorer areas

There were 2,547 ATMs in the city in 2007, which was an increase on 2006 of 138