Lockdown | Banks to waive ATM penalty fees, offer customers a helping hand

Banks have taken a number of steps to soften the blow of lockdown on customers, including waiving Saswitch penalty fees at ATMs and minimising branch closures, the Banking Association of South Africa has said.

It will also have ongoing talks with National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank to evaluate the need to further relax regulations, if necessary.

The Reserve Bank has already introduced a raft of interventions aimed at providing lenders with cheaper access to funding, as well as reorganising the way it injects liquidity into the financial system. The monetary policy committee recently voted to lower the repurchase rate by a full percentage point.

BASA will be doing "all in its power" to preserve the "safety and soundness" of South Africa's financial system during lockdown, it said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The board of BASA held a meeting on 25 March to consider the industry's response to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Banks are among those businesses declared an essential service.

SA banks "strongly support" the president's "decisive leadership" in the effort to save lives and slow the spread of the pandemic, the statement said.

"Banks play a vital role in the economy and accept that as a designated essential service it is their duty to remain operational and accessible, and to support their customers and ensure their safety - alongside that of our staff - during these challenging times for all South Africans," it added.

"BASA members have agreed to do all in their power, while operating within the relevant regulatory frameworks, to responsibly support their customers and preserve the safety and soundness of our financial system."

Additionally, BASA said, customers in good standing – in other words, those who were up to date with their financial commitments – who struggle as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, should contact their banks, who will consider assistance on a case-by-case basis.

"These solutions could include suitable payment deferrals, the restructuring of debt, the provision of small and medium enterprise (SME) bridging finance and liaising with government and others who are providing additional support mechanisms," BASA said.

Among the other steps decided on are the following:

All essential banking services will remain open during lockdown;

All call centres, ATMs and point-of-sale services will continue to operate;

Customers can use any ATM without paying penalty fees if they do not withdraw from their own bank. This is not yet in operation, but it is being prioritised;

Banks will keep open "as many branches as is necessary" in order to minimise disruption.

However, the statement added, there may be fewer staff members on duty in bank branches, and called on the public to only visit bank branches when it was absolutely necessary, encouraging the use of online and telephonic services instead.

Bank staff who can work from home have been enabled to do so, the statement added. "The number of staff who will have to work in offices, call centres, data centres and branches will be kept to the minimum and all World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols will be observed."