By Phillip de Wet for Business Insider SA
All of South Africa’s biggest retail-network banks are now in breach of national disaster regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
On Tuesday, co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma published back-dated amendments to rules that slightly reduced curfew, defined “beaches” (for purposes of banning their use) – and created new obligations for banks. On top of managing queues at their ATMs to ensure social distancing, all banks are now required to “ensure that all automated teller machines… have hand sanitisers for use by the public at each automated teller machine”.
But that is simply “impossible”, said one bank representative privately, and a show of significant ignorance by the government of how modern banking operates.
On the record, each of the big five retail banks – FNB, Absa, Nedbank, Standard, and Capitec – have confirmed that they are not in full compliance, at least not yet. In some cases, ATMs are sanitised only once a quarter, during routine cleaning.
The government has taken a hard line, threatening penalties for banks that do not comply.
“This is very important, because, if not, the ATMs could become super spreaders,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
See also | ATMs can become Covid ‘super-spreaders’, says gov – banks will need to obey new lockdown laws
Between them, banks have tens of thousands of ATMs, some of which provide the only banking service in far-flung areas. With little to no prospect of reliably ensuring the availability of hand sanitiser, those are the machines most likely to be shut down if government seeks to enforce the sanitiser rule.
Discussions are now underway via the the Banking Association South Africa (Basa).
The major banks all stressed that they were taking various measures to keep customers safe, including close management of ATMs at their branches, which tend to have high volumes.
But several also pointed out that they simply do not have the people available for what would be a gigantic logistical exercise.
Here is what each of the banks with big ATM networks told Business Insider South Africa about sanitiser at their machines.
First National Bank
FNB’s CEO of its points of presence, Lee-Anne van Zyl, said the bank’s onsite ATMs at branches – which see high volumes – are “regularly” sanitised by its staff, and also have pedal-dispensers with hand sanitiser.
But its “offsite” machines are serviced once or twice a week, when they are sanitised with a solution FNB says lasts for seven days.
It also has in-store ATMs, which are operated by retailers who are responsible for sanitising them, and “managed” ATMs, which are handled by a cash-in-transit company. Those are cleaned, and sanitised, once every quarter.
Standard Bank said its high-volume ATMs are sanitised twice a day.
When it comes to having hand sanitiser at every machine, it is “reviewing the current requirements in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders to formulate the appropriate response”.
Capitec said that ATMs at branches are “regularly disinfected” by staff – but that off-site machines do not have staff servicing them.
Absa’s managing executive for physical channels across retail and business banking Tshiwela Mhlantla said foot-operated sanitiser dispensers are available at “many” of its ATMs located at branches.
“Maintaining sanitiser infrastructure at remote sites can be challenging and so, where possible, we have requested landlords to support our non-branch ATMs with sanitising solutions.”
Nedbank said that, after the new regulations were published on Tuesday, it “immediately commenced a process of installing hand sanitiser dispensers at all our ATMs as quickly as is practically possible and this should be completed shortly.”
In the meanwhile it has “manual dispensing” on offer “where possible”.