Remote Indigenous consumers saved from high ATM fees

CFA member Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) has won a long campaign to overcome the large amounts many Indigenous consumers were paying in ATM fees.

FCA welcomes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s decision to authorise an initiative from the banking industry that will lead to fee-free ATMs in a number of remote Indigenous communities.

“This is a huge step forward in reducing the financial disadvantage suffered by people living in remote communities,” said Fiona Guthrie, Executive Director of FCA.

In December 2010, FCA released a report titled ‘ATM Fees in Indigenous Communities’. This report, based on the coal-face experience of financial counsellors and money management workers, documented the large amounts of money that Indigenous people in remote communities were spending on ATM fees – in some cases up to 20% of an individual’s limited income.

“Indigenous consumers in remote communities have no choice but to use the single privately-owned ATM and they are all charge fees,” said Ms Guthrie. “Matters are made worse because many Indigenous people check their account balances multiple times in a single day or withdraw small amounts of cash. They might do this to check if a payment has arrived or for budgeting or cultural reasons.”

The authorisation is the end of what has effectively been a two-year process in the public domain (although the problems have existed for much longer).  We acknowledge the role of the Federal Government in initiating the inquiry into this issue in December 2010 and the members of the ATM Taskforce who undertook that inquiry. We also acknowledge the support and financial contribution from the banking industry that underpins the agreement.

However, there is still more work to do.  Based on feedback from financial counsellors and money management workers in remote communities, there may be an additional 30 to 40 ATMs in remote communities –  in addition to the 76 ATMs included in the ACCC authorisation – that may meet the criteria for inclusion. Further discussion about these communities is needed.

The government has committed to setting up a multi-party working group to address this issue in the longer term. FCA looks forward to working with that group to find a lasting solution.