Bawag bank ‘covertly’ introduces ATM fees

Austria’s Bawag bank is the first major bank in the country to start charging its customers fees for withdrawing cash from ATM machines - a move which has been met with outrage by many.

Bawag bank 'covertly' introduces ATM fees
Bawag headquarters in Vienna. Photo: Priwo/Wikimedia

The Minister for Consumer Protection Alois Stöger (SPÖ) has asked the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) to sue the bank, saying that such a move is “clearly illegal”. He said it’s not about charging ATM fees but forcing existing Bawag customers to switch from their old accounts to newer, more expensive accounts.

Bawag has created new accounts and is terminating existing contracts for around 20,000 of its customers, who will be asked to sign up to the new ‘Kontobox’.

Depending on what features customers opt for the new account costs between €4.90 and €12.90 per month. The cheapest package only allows one free cash withdrawal per month, and the next cheapest package allows five withdrawals a month. After that, cash withdrawals for euros and foreign currency costs 39 cents. Only when you sign up for a ‘Large Box’ account (costing 9.90 per month) or an 'X-Large’, do you get unlimited cash withdrawals.

Previously, many Bawag account holders signed up to its services because of the promise of free banking. BAWAG used to offer so called “880” accounts where accounts operations were free provided that the average balance across a quarter was over €880 (otherwise there was a quarterly account management fee). The terms also included having a monthly salary paid into your account.

Unsurprisingly, many Bawag customers are not happy with the changes and have made complaints. “I’ve been a customer for 40 years, and suddenly I’m being asked to change my account or go to another bank,” Ingo K. told the Presse newspaper. He manages all his bank transactions online and doesn’t need to go into his branch often, so opted for the cheapest account. “My bank adviser did not tell me that there would be fees for ATM machines, which is written somewhere in the small print.” He is now considering switching to another bank.

The Ministry for Consumer Protection says that the information Bawag sent to its customers about the new accounts offers “no explanation or information and gives the impression that the consumer will save money by switching to the new account model, whilst in actual fact it will cost them more”. There are concerns that this could set a precedent which would allow banks to covertly force customers to take products that have high transaction fees. This would be an issue for consumers that don't use online banking and make frequent cash withdrawals.

In July, the Euronet ATM provider introduced a fee of €1.95 for cash withdrawals from its machines in Austria, without any warning. Austrian finance minister Hans Jörg Schelling previously said that banks shouldn’t be allowed to charge their own customers for withdrawing cash – and that if banks were to do this they would have to create new accounts. This is what Bawag has done, and it says that all customers who have signed up to the new accounts were made aware of the changes and agreed to them when they signed the contract.

For a comparison of different banking services in Austria (in German) go to:

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What you need to know about opening a bank account in Austria

Opening a bank account is an essential task when moving to a new country. Here's how to open a bank account in Austria.

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Austria
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

After all, you need to be able to get paid and access your money without paying international bank charges.

Thankfully, in Austria, it’s relatively easy and there are many options available, from long-standing traditional financial institutions to new digital banks.

Some banks even have accounts in English. This makes the process much easier for people that have recently moved to Austria and might not have strong German skills yet.

What documents are needed to open a bank account?

To open a bank account in Austria applicants need to show proof of identity – just like in most countries around the world. This is usually done with a passport. 

Next, banks want to see proof of residency, like a residency registration form or utility bills, and proof of employment, self-employment or student status.

Once the documents have been provided, the process of setting up an account is quick and new bank cards are usually received within a few days.

A less secure but probably cuter version of a bank account in Austria. Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Traditional vs digital banks

Digital banking has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and it’s no different in Austria. Although some of the more traditional banks have been slower to adopt digital banking tools.

As a foreign resident, opening a bank account with a digital bank is usually the easier option. Especially for people with limited German language skills.

This is because the application form and identity verification can be completed online or via the bank’s app. Plus, in most cases, it can be done in English (or another language).

N26 Bank is a prime example of this. The bank has branches in several EU countries, which means their services can be accessed in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian.

For international customers, N26 also has a partnership with Wise (formerly TransferWise). This makes sending money overseas, or back home, even easier and cheaper.

Erste bank is another bank that is regularly recommended by international residents in Austria because accounts can be opened online and in English.

However, opening an account online is not for everyone. 

For people that prefer to visit a bank in person to open an account, a more traditional bank is probably the best option. And in most cases an appointment will have to be made in advance.

If you want to go down this route, it’s important to remember that Austria is a German-speaking country.

This means it can’t be guaranteed that people working at the bank will speak English – particularly in more rural areas. 

If you’re still learning German, or not feeling confident about opening an account in another language, it could be worth taking someone you trust with good German skills with you to the appointment. 

Having someone to translate can make the process much easier. And it means there is less chance of missing some important information that could impact your finances.

Just make sure to take all of the required identity documents with you to the appointment.

Opening a bank account as a non-resident in Austria

For non-residents in Austria, opening a bank account can be a bit more complicated. But it’s not impossible, and mostly depends on the bank you approach.

For example, Bank Austria offers a service for non-residents, with services for private customers, diplomats and those working for an international organisation in Austria.

Extra information about Austrian bank accounts

Many banks in Austria charge a monthly or annual fee to use their services.

There are some exceptions though, like N26 and DKB – a German bank that is also available for Austrian residents. Both banks offer free accounts regardless of how much (or how little) is deposited into an account each month.

Cash withdrawals at ATMs are mostly free in Austria. But if travelling overseas check with your bank to find out more about international withdrawal fees.

And finally, Austrian banks are covered by EU law, which means deposits up to €100,000 are protected.

Essential bank-related terms in German

  • Kostenlos/ Gratis – free
  • Gratiskonto – free account
  • Girokonto – current account
  • Weltweit – worldwide
  • Bankomatkarte – ATM card
  • Bargeld – cash
  • Bargeldabhebug – cash withdrawal