Commercial banks in Vietnam were allowed to charge their ATM customers new usage fees as of March 1, but most of them have placed the fees on hold, citing concerns over customers' objection.
News website VnExpress reported that major lender Vietcombank was the first and one of few institutions to take advantage of new central bank regulations, which allow domestic lenders to charge their customers VND1,000 (less than 5 US cents) for each ATM withdrawal. The figure is set to double next year and triple by 2015.
Banks used to only charge clients of other banks for the use of their ATMs.
Decree 35 now also allows them to charge clients VND500 for a printed transaction receipt, which used to be free, with Vietcombank saying it will also raise its money transfer fee from VND3,000 to VND5,000.
All new ATM fees are subject to a value-added tax of 10 percent.
But many other banks, big and small, have postponed plans to impose the new fees for at least a couple weeks.
Nguyen Minh Phuong, director of the card center for Agribank, Vietnam's biggest lender which has issued more than 10 million ATM cards, said the bank will start implementing the fees starting March 15.
Le Thi Kim Thu, Phuong's counterpart at BIDV, Vietnam's largest partly-private bank by assets, said the bank will postpone charging the new ATM fees for two months, "to show our clients some gratitude."
Thu said after that the bank will institute support policies that include charging students and low-income clients either lowered fees or none at all.
Dong A Bank, which has around six million ATM cardholders, said it will not charge its own clients with such ATM usage fees until at least the end of this year.
"In this difficult time, everyone has to tighten their belt, and VND1,000 is valuable to poor farmers and workers," said the bank's general director Tran Phuong Binh.
Binh also said the bank has plans to attract more ATM users and more fees would only chase them away.
"We are focusing on improving our services, especially with the ATM systems to provide more conveniences to our clients, so that one day in the future, every single dong they pay when using the ATM will be worth it," he said.
Bui Quang Tien, head of the central bank's Settlement Systems Department, said 22 small and medium-sized banks have also said they do not plan to charge the fees any time soon, to attract customers.
Tien said they would continue to accept losses incurred from ATM infrastructure and facilities and will wait to enlarge their ATM customer base.
Nguyen Van Tuan, chairman of Vietnam Card Association, said each ATM transaction costs banks between VND7,000 and 9,000.
The central bank earlier justified the new fees by saying they would help domestic banks to cover ATM expenditures and facilities, but the public quickly objected, saying that banks had already begun profiting from the investment via fees collected for ATM cards and annual membership fees.
Among the fees that banks already charge their clients are a one-time card issuance fee of VND50,000-100,000; and an annual membership fee of VND50,000, which is due to be raised to VND60,000.
People have also complained that ATMs in Vietnam are often broken or out of service.
According to the State Bank of Vietnam, commercial banks in Vietnam had issued nearly 50 million ATM cards.