The wildly complex world of money machine fees unveiled

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 July, 2011, 12:00am


ATMs are a huge convenience. They also come with fees that can be hidden or are often difficult to understand and compare. Most people just accept them.

There are about 16 million ATM cards in Hong Kong - used 136.4 million times in 2010. Those fees add up to substantial sums.

There are three ATM networks in Hong Kong, each supporting its own set of banks and charging different fees depending on whether a machine is used locally or abroad.

The Hong Kong Association of Banks, along with the DTC association (Hong Kong Association of Restricted Licence Banks and Deposit Taking Companies) issued a revised Code of Banking Practice in 2009, endorsed by the Monetary Authority. It recommends all banks make fee details readily available to customers. Despite that, most banks show only the minimum fees applying to ATM use in their service charges leaflet.

Money Post chose eight big Hong Kong banks and asked employees, both in person and over the phone, to explain the main ATM fees in Hong Kong and abroad, at any branch and also at other banks.

Jetco (Joint Electronic Teller Services) is the most popular ATM network, with 30 member banks in Hong Kong and Macau and 2,600 ATMs in the region, including in 20 major mainland cities. Banks such as Citibank, Bank of China, DBS and Standard Chartered are members, and their ATMs sport the Jetco logo. Withdrawing money from any of their ATMs attracts no fee in Hong Kong.

Hang Seng and HSBC use the ETC network's approximately 1,000 ATMs in Hong Kong.

AEON is the third network. According to a February report by Euromonitor International, a market research company, AEON is 'by far the smallest' and its presence is most important in South Asia and India. For the sake of simplifying this data, we chose to ignore it.

Jetco and ETC are not compatible. That leaves the customer guessing about fees when withdrawing money. An HSBC/Hang Seng ATM card holder can withdraw fee-free money only at those two banks. He or she will pay between HK$15 and HK$30 for using any other bank, because they are all Jetco members.

On the other hand, a Standard Chartered customer can withdraw money for free anywhere, except at ATMs belonging to HSBC and Hang Seng, where he or she will be changed a HK$28 fee.

China UnionPay (CUP), Cirrus and Plus are the networks that link the systems together. Cirrus is MasterCard's ATM brand and Plus, from Visa, is its main competitor. CUP is the mainland's interbank network, founded in 2002.

When withdrawing abroad, one has to look at the logo on the ATM machine. Banks usually support CUP and either Plus or Cirrus. For example, a Citibank customer using its card in another Citibank ATM overseas will not be charged. The customer will likewise incur no fee if he uses the Citibank card in another bank that has either the CUP or Plus logo. Citibank ATM cards do not support Cirrus.

A Bank of East Asia (BEA) customer would be charged, when abroad, HK$15 if using an ATM through the CUP network (typically on the mainland). If the ATM does not support CUP (which is likely to be the case outside of Hong Kong and the mainland), a BEA customer would be charged HK$50 to use the ATM, because in that situation he will be using either the Plus or Cirrus networks. A Standard Chartered customer would be charged HK$28. A DBS, HSBC or Bank of China customer would be charged HK$25 to use a Cirrus-connected ATM abroad.

CUP consistently charges a transaction fee of HK$15 across all ATM card holders, while Plus and Cirrus fees vary between HK$25 and HK$50 per ATM use, depending on the bank card used.

Citibank has an interesting ATM policy. Its Hong Kong customers pay nothing to use Jetco inside Hong Kong, or its network abroad. It is the only bank for which there is no fee for withdrawals through the CUP network.

ATM transaction value in Hong Kong has increased by 57 per cent since 2005, climbing to HK$89.5 billion last year.

This is the start of a weekly series exploring banking fees. If you have any fees issues you would like to discuss, please email your thoughts to