Cash machine (ATM) fees can be a nasty surprise when staying in other EU countries, not least for Austrian holidaymakers. The Chamber of Labour has carried out an online survey to collect data from several countries that provide an overview of the situation.
After in 2019 consumer protectors of the Chamber of Labour had received a large number of complaints regarding high ATM fees in the eurozone, the Chamber of Labour launched a Survey to establish the rate of ATM fees in individual EU countries. The survey was mainly aimed at vacationers, who spent their holidays in another EU country.
What many consumers are unaware of: Austrian banks too charge fees for cash withdrawals or cashless payments. In Austria, holders of a current account not only pay transaction fees - these are charged either in arrears on a quarterly basis or for each individual transaction - but also for using the debit card itself. However, if Austrian bank customers withdraw cash from third-party suppliers, for example the US provider Euronet, they are charged with additional fees. For example, in the case of Euronet ATMs, which have been installed in Austria since 2016 especially in tourist areas, the fee is 1.95 Euro. Charging consumers with additional fees had been prohibited at the start of 2018; however, the ban was lifted by the Constitutional Court in the same year because it regarded the ban as an infringement of the fundamental right of banks not to be deprived of their property. Hence, customers pay in fact three times when they withdraw cash from ATMs by third-party suppliers.
Results of the Online survey
249 consumers took part in the online survey, which could be answered on the homepages of the Federal Chamber of Labour and the Chambers of Labour Vienna, Tyrol and Lower Austria from 12 September to 31 October 2019. Data was collected from 13 EU countries, whereby the largest number of answers concerned Greece (ca. 34 %), Spain (ca. 22 %), Germany (ca. 14.5 %) and Italy (ca. 14 %). The fees ranged from 1.25 Euro for the lowest withdrawal rate in Spain, up to 6.50 Euro for the most expensive withdrawal in Germany. If one looks at the median values, hence, the mean value of all amounts quoted, Germany, with a median value of 5 Euro, is the frontrunner. Malta and the Netherlands reach the same value; however, were only named once. According to the AK survey, the country with the lowest fees is Ireland with a median value of 1.50 Euro, followed by Spain and Slovakia with 2 Euro each. Hence, when making a cash withdrawal, it is always worthwhile to check the display screen for ATM fees and to cancel the operation if required. “It may be worthwhile not to withdraw cash from the first ATM you see”, advises AK Consumer protector Gabriele Zgubic.
Transparency - a basic requirement
In Malta, the Netherlands and Cyprus, fees were charged in 100 % of the withdrawals, whereby there was only one response for each of these countries. They are followed by Greece (ca. 92 %) and Spain (ca. 83.5 %). The survey also found that in most cases consumers were well informed about the fees involved. Only in Greece and Austria, some consumers felt they had not been informed well enough. However, clear information on fees charges and their rate is a statutory requirement for charging ATM fees. Apart from that, this information must be provided at a time when it is still possible to cancel the transaction.
AK demands free access to own cash
“Access to own cash must be free”, says Zgubic. The withdrawal of cash is a key function of a (fee-based) current account and consumers should not be made to pay twice of even three times. Apart from that, banks must provide their customers with sufficient opportunities to withdraw cash without additional costs. The development that access to cash is increasingly left to third-party suppliers, which in turn charge large fees on withdrawals, is not acceptable. The Chamber of Labour also demands the unconditional retention of cash as well as the guarantee that consumers can choose between methods of payment. Consumers must be able to decide for themselves whether they want to pay cash or electronically. Electronic payments always leave electronic traces. Electronic payments are highly traceable, leading straight towards the “transparent citizen”. Therefore, BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation in Brussels, also supports the protection of cash.
Regarding ATM fees, the Chamber of Labour also sees a need for action at EU level. Banks should be obliged to provide consumer-friendly current accounts, which also cover cash withdrawals at ATMs provided by third-party suppliers. Consumers shall not be burdened by high additional costs and incomprehensible contracts with third-party suppliers. That is why the Chamber of Labour demands current accounts with a flat-rate fee that includes all ATM transactions.