Montague slams commercial banks for ‘mistreating customers’

On Wednesday, St Mary Western MP Robert Montague launched a campaign against commercial banks, over what he said was the “mistreatment” of their customers.

The government deputy went on the offensive by contributing to the debate on the state of the constituency 2022-2023 in the House of Representatives. He even called on the responsible minister to revoke the licenses of poorly performing banks.

“Residents of Western St Mary are struggling to meet their banking needs as commercial banks are out of cash and charging fees like it’s getting old,” Montague began.

“We believe that banks put profits before people,” he added.

Montague, who was acclaimed by his colleagues in a nearly 45-minute speech, called out banks for their practice of charging fees on inactive accounts and wondered how an account could be inactive in the first place.

“I am told that the banks credit your account at least twice a year with interest. If so, that means every account has activity at least twice a year. If this is true, then how can an account be inactive? asked Montague.

“On what basis do they charge dormancy fees?” Montague continued.

He said if there is no activity on these accounts, the banks must say what they are doing with the interest earned on the accounts.

“If they loan people money and don’t return some of the interest earned, that’s not just fraud, it’s outright theft,” he said.

Montague said Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke and the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) should investigate and fine the banks.

“In addition, all dormant charges billed over the past seven years must be repaid with interest. This is an official report on the matter. If the banks refuse to refund and stop the practice, then Minister (Clarke), then you should report the matter to the police,” Montage said.

He told Clarke it’s time for poor, hurting bank customers to get redress, “and that’s why we’re looking to you.”

Montague also accused the banks of being loose with customers’ personal information.

He claimed that when customers deposit money at ATMs, “banks now entrust my money to a third party to collect, count and credit 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 deposit my money on time, the bank then proceeds and charges an overdraft fee; again, no operating standard.

Montague further accused this BPO employee, with whom he has not signed any confidentiality agreement, of now being in possession of his personal information.

“My information can be sold to lottery scammers; they are now scamming on the island. A new industry has begun. Many people see funds disappearing, credit cards building up huge balances, and all sorts of fun activity on their accounts. But the banks do not hold themselves accountable; they hold the people of Western St Mary and other rural towns accountable,” Montage said.

“The finance minister and the BOJ must act,” he said.

The former national security minister argued that there is a double standard in how banks are treated, compared to how taxi operators are treated. Noting that having a banking license is a privilege, Montague said the license issuer, the BOJ, can put the brakes on the entity.

“Don’t tell me that neither you (Clarke) nor the BOJ have the power to do this. The government has a big stick; use it,” Montague said.

Said Montague: “How then do you run over a taxi man? He also has a license and you beat him when the serve is not up to par or if he breaks. Or is it only for the poor that we have strength? If you can’t touch or brake the banks, then don’t touch the taxi operator. There must be a rule, a principle for all”.

The government MP said banks should have 60 days to put their house in order.

While emphasizing that he is simply asking for better customer service from financial institutions, Montage said there must be operating standards and penalties for violations.

He also said his constituents want a longer transition period before banks run out of cash.

“We agree that cashless is the way of the future, but this decision is too sudden. Elderly people are forced to expose their account information and PIN because they cannot handle the ATM process. People are at the ATM ready to help them, then steal money from them.

“A lot of older Jamaicans don’t even want their children to know how much money they have; now they are forced to pass this information on to supposedly helpful strangers, and the banks, who created this, are beyond reproach,” Montague said.

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