By Stelios Orphanides
Bank of Cyprus has restricted its customers’ ability to use online payment systems as consumers are seeking ways to cost-effectively transfer funds, a bank customer said.
The customer, who has been using the web-based Transferwise payment system some time now to transfer funds from his Bank of Cyprus account –via the 1Bank service– to the accounts of his children studying in the UK, discovered on Wednesday that he could not proceed with the transaction, which the bank declined to carry out, he said. “When I attempted to transfer £2,000, I was informed by the system that my transaction had not been authorised”.
“Transferwise has a £2,000 (€2,250) limit for every debit card transaction and their charges are based on the day’s exchange rate,” said Tommy Sapachlaris in an interview on Thursday. “By transferring £2,000 you only have to pay a little more than €11 in fees and for a €500 transfer around €2, whereas when you do the same with 1Bank you have to pay more than double”.
He subsequently inquired at Bank of Cyprus’s 1Bank service and was told that the reason behind the rejection of his transaction was that it “was identified as a cash withdrawal transaction instead of an e-commerce transaction” which was the case in the past. He added that 1Bank advised him to contact Transferwise and after he did so the online payment system company informed him that it hadn’t changed anything in its regulations or operations which could have restricted his ability to carry out transactions from Bank of Cyprus account using Transferwise.
In a second communication with 1Bank on Wednesday, “they told me that they introduced a €800 cap per transaction to protect the consumers after a decision of both Bank of Cyprus and the Central Bank of Cyprus,” Sapachlaris said. A day later, the bank informed him that would temporarily increase the limit which allowed him to carry out two transfers of €800 each.
Bank of Cyprus did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson at the Central Bank of Cyprus which jointly with the European Central Bank’s (ECB) Single Supervisory Mechanism supervises Bank of Cyprus said that it has not introduced any related restrictions and every bank was free to do so “depending on each case’s risk evaluation”.
In an email communication with Sapachlaris, Transferwise said that in the past 30 days, it had received more than 500 card payments from Cyprus each exceeding €800.
A bank source who spoke on anonymity citing the lack of authorisation to discuss the matter with the press said that the use of online payment services is government by the European Union’s Payment Services Directive 1 (PSD1), which on January 13, will be replaced by PSD2.
“It gives the right to companies to offer this type of services but also gives the right to banks to impose restrictions,” he said.
“The cap in transactions may be introduced to protect a source of revenue, or to protect itself and its customer from cyberattacks or data theft and to restrict abuse with money laundering,” the source added.
Bank of Cyprus which posted a €553m net loss in the first nine months of the year mainly on an increase in provisions for debt impairments, also saw its net revenue income drop to €454m in the same period from €524m in the respective period last year, partly on record low interest rates. On the other hand, Cyprus’s largest bank saw its non-interest income rise to €239m in January to September from €193m in the respective period of 2016. The above amounts included income from net fees and commissions of €133m and €112m respectively.
The increase in non-interest income in the first nine months of 2017 was “largely driven by the new and increased commission charges introduced in the fourth quarter of 2016,” the bank said on November 21, when it announced its earnings.