Member of Parliament (MP) for St Mary Western, Robert Montague, launched a broadside against commercial banks on Wednesday, over what he characterised as their “poor treatment” of their customers.
The Government MP went on the offensive as he made his contribution to the 2022-2023 State of the Constituency Debate in the House of Representatives. He even called for the responsible minister to revoke the licences of poor performing banks.
“The people in Western St Mary are having a hard time with their banking needs as the commercial banks have all gone cashless and are charging fees as if it’s going out of style,” Montague began.
“We are of the view that the banks are putting profits over people,” he added.
Montague, who was cheered along by his colleagues in a near 45-minute speech, called out the banks for their practice of charging fees on dormant accounts, and questioned how an account can be dormant in the first place.
“I am told that the banks credit your account at least twice per year with interest. If this be so, it means that every account has activity at least twice per year. If this is true, how then can an account be dormant?” asked Montague.
“On what basis are they charging a dormancy fee?” Montague continued.
He said if there is no activity on these accounts, the banks need to tell what they do with interest earned from the accounts.
“If they lend out people’s money and don’t give back a portion of the interest earned, it’s not only fraud, it’s downright robbery,” he declared.
Montague said the Minister of Finance, Dr Nigel Clarke, and the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) should investigate and fine the banks.
“Plus, every dormant fee charged in the last seven years must be returned with interest. This is a formal report on the matter. If the banks refuse to pay back and stop the practice, then minister (Clarke), you must then report the matter to the police,” Montage stated.
He told Clarke that it is time poor suffering bank customers get some redress, “and that’s why we are turning to you”.
Montague also charged that banks were being loose with customers’ personal information.
He charged that when customers lodge money using ATMs, “the banks now give my money to a third party to collect, count and credit to my account. My information is in the hands of a BPO (business process outsourcing) operator without my knowledge or consent. If this third party does not lodge my money on time, the bank then goes ahead and charges overdraft fees; again, no operating standard.”
Montague charged further that this BPO employee with whom he signed no confidentiality agreement, is now in possession of his personal information.
“My information can be sold to lotto scammers; they are now scamming in-island. A new industry has started. Many people are seeing funds going missing, credit cards running up massive balances, and all kinds of funny activities on their accounts. But the banks don’t hold themselves liable; they hold the people of Western St Mary and other rural towns liable,” said Montage.
“The minister of finance and the BOJ must act,” he declared.
The former national security minister argued that a double standard exists in the way banks are treated, versus the way taxi operators are treated. In noting that possessing a banking licence is a privilege, Montague said the issuer of the licence, the BOJ, can rein in the entity.
“Don’t tell me that neither you (Clarke) nor the BOJ has no power to do so. The Government has a big stick; use it,” Montague declared.
Said Montague: “How then do you run down a taxi man? He has a licence too and you beat up on him when the service is not up to par or if he breaches. Or is only poor people we have strength for? If you cannot touch or rein in the banks, then don’t touch the taxi operator. There must be one rule, one principle for all”.
The Government MP said the banks should be given 60 days to get their houses in order.
While stressing that he is merely asking for better customer service from the financial institutions, Montage said there must be operating standards and penalties if they are breached.
He also said his constituents are calling for a longer transition period before the banks go cashless.
“We agree that going cashless is the way of the future, but the move is too sudden. Older persons are being forced to expose their account information and pin because they can’t manage the ATM process. People are at the ATM willing and waiting to assist them, then thief them money.
“Many older Jamaicans don’t even want their children to know how much money they have; now they are being forced to hand over this information to so-called helpful strangers, and the banks, which created this, are blameless,” said Montague.