ATM transactions come with a price

Following the gruesome incident in an ATM in Bangalore, where a woman was hacked by a robber for refusing to withdraw money, customers expected an upgrade in security measures at ATM kiosks all across the country.

Instead, the Indian Banks Association (IBA) has shocked everyone by suggesting closing down of some ATMs at night, permanently shutting down some others and even charging customers for using their own banks’ ATM more than five times every month.

Five years after the Reserve Bank of India made ATM transactions free, leading to kiosks mushrooming in every block of the country, banks have suddenly realised that they need to provide at least one security guard at every booth which will negate the profits they earn from running unmanned ATMs. This cost is being pegged at Rs 4,000 crore per month for every bank, which will be recovered from customers through the proposed charge.

Customers, obviously, are feeling cheated. Manisha Seth, a Gurgaon-based IT professional, says, “I am surprised that till date, they thought that providing a security guard at an ATM was optional. How can you leave a machine full of money, and people who use it, without any defence? Can you have a bank branch without CCTVs, armed personnel and alarms? I guess even those frail, lathi-wielding guards we would sometimes see at ATMs till now, were a part of cost cutting measures.”

Calls for credit and debit cards from banks have always been “irritating,” but in light of the new developments, they seem to have become all the more harassing for customers. “I got three even today,” says Sudhanshu Verma, an HR executive, “They are still marketing their cards as aggressively but won’t tell me how many ATMs they are finally going to keep in my area. If I don’t have easy access to an ATM, what
would I do with the card?”

Others are surprised at the “step going back in time” when recently, some banks had started touting their ATMs as mini-bank branches. “I saw this advertisement by a private bank recently claiming that they were making available almost all the facilities provided at their branches, at their ATMs too. They promoted it as 24X7 banking right at your doorstep. It’s surprising that they were promising so much, without a care for security so long,” says college student Keerti.

Also in disagreement with the move, most bankers and economists are trying to find a middle path out of this imbroglio. Professor BL Pandit, who teaches ‘Monetary Policy and Interest rate determination’ at the Delhi School of Economics, says, “The banks can close some ATMs at night when withdrawals are few and far between; in lieu, they can make sure that each hospital has a 24-hour ATM where liquid cash is required in emergencies. But they should not levy this extra charge after five transactions. This is unfair.”

Lalit Kumar, a financial consultant, on the other hand, says, “The banks can even shut some ATMs which are sparsely used. They anyways can keep only those kiosks which are financially viable, but it’s wrong to make people pay to withdraw their own money. Ultimately, the customers will land at the bank branches which will only raise the banks’ operational cost.”       

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