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Banks ignore SBP directives as ATMs remain out of cash

KARACHI (October 25 2006): Despite clear directives by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to all banks that adequate backup arrangements should be made to ensure availability of ATM service round the clock, the ATM card users are facing severe hardships in withdrawing cash.

Over 80 percent of ATM counters of different banks, including MCB Bank, were either out of cash or were out of order depriving the masses of Eid shopping, as ATMs are the only source of drawing money, since the banks would remain close for five consecutive days.

The ATMs remained out of cash at least for one week before Eid and people were found cursing the 'high-tech' banking which was meant to facilitate the customers, but it was highly disappointing and discouraging for the users.

The banking hours were reduced in Ramazan and subsequently the load increased on ATMs but it was found that banks were running short of liquidity and they mostly kept their ATMs off.

The SBP, observing that incidents of 'ATMs out of cash/service' were on the rise, particularly during the days of Ramazan, Eid holidays and other long weekends, had directed to ensure continuous availability of ATM facility in order to minimise such incidents.

The guidelines issued by SBP for banks said disruption of service for regular maintenance should be properly planned and communicated in order to avoid inconvenience to card holders. Any major breakdown, along with reasons thereof, should immediately be reported to the payment system department, SBP.

A maximum downtime of ATMs from 12 of midnight to 8 am to process Zakat deductions and closing of books of accounts on the first of Ramazan, June 30, and December 31 would be admissible.

The SBP added that special arrangements should be made to replenish cash in ATMs during long weekends and holidays. For this purpose, extra cash cassettes to refill ATMs may be arranged to mitigate risks associated with the opening of cash vaults at branches during holidays. Comprehensive operating procedures should be put in place to timely resolve cases of out of cash, breakdown of ATMs, systems and network.

Despite SBP's binding all banks and switch operators to comply with these guidelines, the ATMs of leading banks, having large networks, remained out of order or out of cash most of the time in the last days of Ramazan. While the depositors kept running from Gulshan-e-Iqbal to Tower, the mother street of banking industry, they failed to withdraw cash. Depositors and ATM cardholders accused banks of depriving them of their own money especially at the time when they needed it badly for Eid shopping.

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