Following consumer complaints, the BKartA has launched an
informal investigation into bank charges that are levied at cash
machines in transactions where the customers' card-issuing bank
is different to the bank running the ATM.
The BKartA has sent out information requests to 280 banks to
which they have until the end of March to reply. The investigation
focuses on the question of whether the banks have, through the
charges levied, violated competition law by restricting
competition, discriminating between customers or abusing a dominant
The BKartA is working closely with the German parliamentary
committee (Bundestagsausschuss) for consumer protection
which has requested a meeting with the banks' representatives
in Berlin to discuss the issue.
Until 1997 bank charges were unified across Germany; all
transactions at ATMs not maintained by the customers'
card-issuing bank were subject to a charge of DEM 4 (for
transactions not exceeding DEM 400). This was abolished following
an objection by the network of German regional banks, the
"Sparkassen"; who argued that they had a duty to supply
and maintain far more ATMs than other banks, thereby giving other
banks an unfair advantage. Today, some institutions charge up to
€10 for a single transaction and the average bank charge
levied is almost €6. Experts have calculated that the
actual cost to a bank for an ATM transaction for a customer whose
card is issued by a different bank is only €0.63.
Additionally, FMH, a group of financial advisers, has reported that
in the last six months bank charges have increased in Germany by
Going forward there seem to be two possible options: either to
revert to a unified, nationwide ATM bank charge (which consumer
groups have argued should not exceed €2), or to give the
consumer more transparency about the bank charges that are being
levied at each transaction.
Following developments earlier this week, the banks seem happy
to follow the second approach and give consumers more transparency,
but seem set on their individual charges. In particular the
Sparkassen seem reluctant to revert to a pre-1997 unified charging
system. The banks, represented by the Central Credit Association
(Zentraler Kreditausschuss –
"ZKA") have internally agreed the cornerstones
for an agreement to provide more transparency to the consumer. The
ZKA now intends to approach the BKartA with this agreement, showing
the banks' willingness to cooperate in the informal
investigation. The agreement currently foresees that customers are
informed about the total amount of the charge levied for their
transaction at the ATM before each transaction, thereby giving
consumers the possibility to cancel the transaction if they object
to the charge.
The informal investigation is ongoing. The BKartA will first
analyse the banks' replies to the informal information requests
and then decide whether to initiate formal proceedings against the
To view Community Week, Issue 464 – 26 March 2010 in
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