Stopping at an automated teller machine (ATM) booth of the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam in Hanoi, Le Thu Ha is elated, as nobody is waiting to withdraw cash.
The elation is short-lived, though.
"My house is near an ATM of the bank. But I have not been able to withdraw cash from it for three days. Sometimes, it shows errors, sometimes it has run out of cash," said Ha, a 21-year-old nurse from Dong Da District.
Unable to withdraw cash from the ATM, Ha has to go around to the machines of other banks to withdraw cash, but has similar luck. "What a pain," she exclaimed. "Without cash, I cannot purchase anything for Tet. Maybe I have to go to the bank and get it," she said.
Many ATMs have acted up in recent weeks as the number of customers using the machines increases during the festival season. Many businesses have given employees salaries and bonuses for the Lunar New Year, which starts on February 3, and these funds are typically accessed through ATMs.
A joint stock commercial bank official said cash withdrawals were up by 50 percent over the normal amount for the past 10 days, and may double or even triple in the coming days, as people rush to do Tet shopping.
Nguyen Duc Vinh, chief executive officer of Techcombank, said the amount of cash provided for ATMs outside banks is often lower than those inside due to security reasons, thus they are likely to run out of money quickly when demand increases.
Customers of several banks have reported trouble with ATMs in recent days. "I have been waiting here for half an hour. However, I do not know whether the ATM is working or not until I actually get the money," said Le Bao Anh, who works as a clerk with an insurance firm in Thuong Tin District, outside an ATM kiosk in Dinh Cong Street. There were five other customers patiently waiting their turn.
Snaking queues outside ATMs, especially around industrial parks, have become a common sight. Many people wait for hours to withdraw cash.
"Banks' offices are far from here, so it is inconvenient if we cannot withdraw cash from ATMs," said a worried Nguyen Van Quynh, who works for a company making wooden products in Quang Minh Industrial Park.
Vinh of Techcombank said the bank will increase the amount of money in some busy ATMs to deal with the overload situation. "The most important solution for dealing with this issue is to load ATMs with money often and regularly. We will strengthen surveillance of the machines, and increase the number of employees tasked with loading them." His bank will also load its ATMs with large denomination notes like VND500,000 and VND200,000, Vinh said.
Le Huynh Ha, ATM service manager for Vietcombank, said his bank will provide money for at least double the withdrawals at ATMs in hot spots like city centers, shopping malls, and supermarkets to ensure there is no shortage.
To meet the increasing demand before Tet, some branches of Vietcombank will extend their working hours up to 8 p.m., instead of closing at 5 p.m. So if customers are not able to withdraw cash from the ATMs, they can do it at bank branches.
Some people say that to reduce the ATM overload, banks should allow customers to withdraw up to VND10 million (US$476.2) per transaction. The current cap of VND2 million per transaction at ATMs is outdated in the context of increasing salaries and bonuses of local people, they say. DongA Bank has become the first bank to allow customers to withdraw up to VND10 million with each transaction at its ATMs.
Vinh of Techcombank said there will not be a shortage of cash for payment this holiday season. Sometimes, ATMs run out of money because banks are not able to deliver the cash in time. Traffic jams and other problems can cause delays, he said.
With more than 1,000 ATMs, Techcombank handles 30,000-50,000 transactions per day via the machines and at its branches. So, some trouble with transactions is unavoidable, Vinh said.
He said local people should increase payments using bank cards, ensuring safety and avoiding trouble in using ATMs. However, it could take a long time to build the habit in a country with a traditional mistrust of non-cash transactions, and where merchandisers are not interested in accepting non-cash payments.
"I do not know how card payment works. I pay for everything in cash. So, it is better for me to wait here until I can withdraw money," said Quynh as he stood patiently in a queue outside an ATM near his company.