THE ANTITRUST Office (PMÚ) has launched an administrative proceeding against the Slovak Banking Association (SBA) for its actions regarding the elimination of the cash deposit fee and implementing a basic banking product. The PMÚ suspects the SBA of creating “a communication platform where sensitive information was exchanged, which led to making the market more transparent, which is a negative in this field”, the Sme daily reported in its May 7 issue.

The SBA however claims it was only following orders from the Finance Ministry.

“We assume that it [the platform] resulted in a situation where market participants gave up their own business policy, which every subject should apply to the market,” Peter Demčák, head of the cartel department of the PMÚ said, as quoted by Sme.

The PMÚ is investigating two banking products. One is a basic package of services introduced by the first government of Robert Fico in 2010. The banks called the product ‘diamond’ and set its price at €3-€9 a month. They claimed the package was not intended for standard clients. However, few clients expressed any interest in the package, as only five people purchased it, Sme wrote.

The second product under investigation is a fee for depositing cash into an account. Back in autumn 2012 the SBA called on banks to temporarily abolish this fee. The banks subsequently agreed that they would abolish it as of December 2012 for six months. The only bank that continued charging the fee was Prima Banka, according to Sme.

“We are not aware of the association violating the law with its actions,” Ladislav Unčovský, head of SBA, told Sme. “We have responded to the calls of the Finance Ministry representatives who were asking the association for information on the effects of implementing the measures, and data that would allow the best possible definition of the banking product.”

Since the SBA did not have the information, it had to turn to its members, Unčovský explained, as reported by the SITA newswire. He added that the banks did not have access to the gathered information and did not discuss their next moves regarding the measures.

The representatives of SBA consider the proceeding inappropriate since it unjustifiably undermines the trust in the activities of the association and also the whole banking sector, as reported by SITA. The association however will cooperate with the PMÚ to close the investigation as soon as possible and avoid similar proceedings in the future.

Before starting the administrative proceeding, the PMÚ carried out inspections of four banks - Slovenská Sporiteľňa, Tatra Banka, VÚB Banka and ČSOB - in October 2013. When analysing the documents, they found some discrepancies in the basic banking products, Demčák said. They started another investigation in the same banks in the beginning of April, which is still underway.

“We firmly reject any suspicions of violating the law on the protection of competition,” spokesperson for Slovenská Sporiteľňa Štefan Frimmer told Sme, adding that the bank follows its own analyses and business strategy when setting the fees. He also said that the bank abolished the cash deposit fee based on the Finance Ministry’s request.

Source: Sme, SITA

Compiled by Radka Minarechová from press reports

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