Despite instructions issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on June 27, the commercial banks in Pakistan did not make any special cash arrangements during the last week of Eidul Fitr as most of the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) of the various banks kept giving their customers error messages of ‘Ran out of cash’ or ‘Out of order’.
Thousands of customers ran from one ATM to another in a bid to withdraw cash ahead of Eid but almost every customer who used debit or credit cards in ATMs in urban areas had to face problems. Similarly, there was a rush of customers on the cash counters in all the banks on the last working day before Eid (Monday), while the banks’ counters were giving currency bills in poor condition to their customers.
“The SBP has not issued new notes for the banks this year,” said an employee of a UBL branch at the I.I. Chundrigar Road, a busy commercial area in Karachi.
Many customers complained to their banks that they received a message of cash withdrawal but they did not get the cash because of network error. When those who suffered tried to call their banks to get help, all the help lines were busy. Those who could get through were told that the amount would automatically be adjusted in their accounts, but the customers weren’t satisfied.
To control the liquidity in the open currency market, the SBP has injected an amount of Rs 3.325 trillion in the last 10 days in the banking system through OMOs, but the ATMs across the country were still showing messages of ‘Ran out of cash’.
“We need a lot of cash for the ATMs during the last week of Ramzan,” said a banker in North Karachi, adding, “Our department is allowed to fill the machines twice a day in normal days. Right now, we are filling the ATMs three to four times a day but the customers are withdrawing large sums, Rs 30,000 to 40,000 or above, at a time.”
“The bank cannot fill the machines every one or two hours and there is a cash limit of Rs 2 million to Rs 2.5 million of an ATM. Nor can we pay the customers in Rs 5,000 notes as many of them refuse to accept this note. We have to fill Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes in the machines,” he added.
Almost every private TV channel showed long queues of customers outside different branches across the country. The customers also had to wait for hours in some branches of commercial and private banks before they could cash their cheques as the banks’ supply did not reach on time either.
One of the banks also witnessed issues related to bad link, which delayed issuance of pension days before Eidul Fitr. The bank disbursed pensions till late evening on Monday to facilitate the pensioners.
The banks’ problems regarding the online link have surfaced in the last three days when nearly half of the branches of every bank were shut. The ATM networks were down at several banks’ branches which increased the pressure on the remaining branches.
A manager of a bank told Pakistan Today that there is no problem of the ATM links as the SBP is itself monitoring everything. “If the SBP asks about the ATMs, the banks reply through Email, as it [SBP] knows what happened during the time when the machine’s link was down,” he said. It cannot impose a fine on any bank on this ground, he added.
On the last working day for the banks before Eid, the National Bank, UBL, Habib Bank Limited and Allied Bank were busy in pension disbursement as most of the government offices released pensions of government employees three days before the Eid.
The State Bank had revised the timings of the banks during Ramzan and eased the long working hours.
The ATM sites of commercial banks will be examined by inspectors of the SBP and verification teams of the SBP’s Banking Service Corporation (BSC) field offices from July 1 until July 10 to verify their operational status.
In view of the extended Eid holidays, the banks have also been advised to intimate the SBP BSC field offices, in advance, about the extra cash that they may need so that adequate arrangements may be made for replenishing their ATMs during Eid holidays.
Banks have also been instructed to ensure that dedicated teams from commercial banks are available for timely resolution of ATM related complaints. Contact numbers of banks’ help lines are prominently displayed on ATM vestibules and advertised in print media to facilitate the general public.