The Gillard Government today announces a new commitment by the Australian banking industry and two major independent ATM companies to voluntarily provide free transactions at 76 ATMs across very remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.
In very remote Indigenous communities, people often have no alternative but to pay frequent ATM fees because they cannot access the type of ordinary banking services which most other Australians take for granted. Indigenous people and residents living in very remote communities often rely on a single ATM located in a community store owned by an independent ATM company to access their cash and check their account balance.
This important initiative follows the recommendations from a joint Treasury/Reserve Bank of Australia Taskforce (‘Taskforce’) that looked into issues relating to expenditure on ATM fees and the cost of ATM access in very remote Indigenous communities. The Taskforce has worked closely with the banking industry and the two independent ATM companies on this initiative (details at Attachment A).
Under the initiative, thirteen banks - ANZ, Bankwest, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, BOQ, Citibank, Commonwealth Bank, HSBC, ING DIRECT, ME Bank, nab, St.George, Suncorp and Westpac - will work to implement a proposed arrangement to provide their customers in identified very remote Indigenous communities with access to fee-free ATM transactions.
The proposed arrangement is a commercial arrangement and is subject to regulatory clearance from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and will require some changes to rules in the Reserve Bank’s ATM Access Regime. The banking industry and the independent ATM companies will seek an interim authorisation from the ACCC and will work with both the ACCC and the Reserve Bank to ensure the arrangement can be appropriately implemented so the interests of the communities involved can be responded to as soon as possible. Pending necessary regulatory approvals, it is expected that the arrangement to provide free ATM transactions in identified very remote Indigenous communities will be operational by December 2012 and will be reviewed after two years.
The Taskforce undertook a comprehensive survey of ATM fees across Australia following claims of excessive ATM charges. The Taskforce found that ATM fees in remote areas are generally similar to those in metropolitan and regional areas.
However, the Taskforce also found residents of very remote Indigenous communities tend to be more heavily reliant on ATM usage than other Australians due to socioeconomic and other reasons. The unique circumstances of some very remote Indigenous communities – their high demand for ATM services combined with lack of readily accessible alternative banking services – puts these communities at a serious disadvantage compared to others in Australia.
The Taskforce also recommended longer-term initiatives to promote better use of ATMs and strengthen financial literacy.
As a result, the Government will:
The Government thanks the banking industry and the independent ATM companies for their goodwill and hard work in finding a solution to community concerns regarding ATM fees in very remote Indigenous communities and for their continuing efforts in working with the regulators on the proposed arrangement.
Separately, the Taskforce also assessed whether there was the need for further measures to enhance competition and transparency across Australia’s ATM industry.
In 2009, the Reserve Bank and the ATM industry introduced a package of reforms designed to improve transparency, flexibility, efficiency and competition in the Australian ATM system.
The Taskforce found that the 2009 reforms have been highly successful and that almost all Australians have good access to fee-free ATMs provided by their own bank or financial institution as well as a number of free alternative banking channels. For most Australians, having access to these alternatives means that paying a fee to use another provider’s ATM is generally a matter of convenience rather than necessity.
The 2009 reforms helped Australians save around $270 million in fees for ATM withdrawals in the two years following the reforms, with around 70 per cent of ATM withdrawals in Australia not incurring any fee at all. The number of ATMs across Australia increased by around 2,500 to 29,500 machines in this period, including new machines in regional and remote communities. Most Australian cardholders now have access to a fee-free network of at least 1,800 ATMs across the country.
The Taskforce strongly recommended against capping or banning ATM fees, advising this could lead to fewer ATMs being provided around Australia, particularly in higher-cost regional and remote areas, as it might become uneconomic for ATM companies to provide these services.
The Taskforce also found that the ATM market has been made even more competitive through the 2009 measures to enhance the transparency of ATM fees charged when consumers use ATMs that are not provided by their own financial institution.
However, the Government is concerned that fee disclosures can appear very late in the transaction, at which point consumers may be reluctant to cancel because they are about to receive their cash.
As a result, the Government will:
The Taskforce’s reports are available on the Competitve and Sustainable Banking System Website.
The Taskforce with input from other Government agencies, community groups, and the industry has determined the following criteria for identifying ATMs for inclusion in an arrangement:
In select community areas, more than one ATM may be included in the proposed arrangement to offer free ATM transactions.
The two major independent ATM companies are currently communicating the details of the initiative to storeowners where identified ATMs are located. A list of community localities will be available on the Treasury website once that process is complete.