Polish bank explains exemption from fees for Ukrainian accounts following criticism

One of Poland’s leading banks has faced a backlash after it emerged that many of its Ukrainian account holders are exempt from an increase in fees for other customers. The bank notes, however, that those accounts are held by refugees who are protected by Polish and EU regulations from such fees.

This week, mBank, which is owned by Germany’s Commerzbank, announced that it was introducing a raft of new fees for cash withdrawals from April.

“At mBank, we have long focused on cashless transactions and self-service, which is why we are increasing fees mainly related to cash withdrawals,” the bank told newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in a statement. “Customers who pay cashless on a daily basis will not experience any changes.”

The bank added that the increases were necessary because “the prices of goods and services have increased significantly in the last two years, which also affects the service costs we incur”.

Customers of mBank, which is Poland’s fifth-largest bank by assets held, reacted angrily to the news, and even more so when it emerged that Ukrainians who set up accounts after fleeing to Poland following Russia’s invasion in February 2022 are exempted from the new fees.

Kazde odmienne traktowanie pod wzgledem narodowym bardzo zle sie kojarzyhttps://t.co/uWFrg0RoeE

— Aleksandra Fedorska (@a_fedorska) March 26, 2024

In response to accusations of discrimination, mBank announced that its hands were tied by Polish and EU rules regarding the type of account offered to Ukrainian refugees, millions of whom entered Poland after the outbreak of war.

It noted that under Polish law, Ukrainian refugees have been granted legal stay in Poland until at least 30 June 2024. As residents, they are entitled to open so-called basic payment accounts, a type of service available in the EU that allows deposits, withdrawals and payments.

“In accordance with the [Polish] law [introducing such accounts], these accounts are free of charge,” a spokeswoman for mBank, Emilia Kasperczak, told news website Interia.

She also pointed to an announcement by Poland’s Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) in March 2022 in which it called on banks to provide accounts to Ukrainian refugees with “complete exemption from fees”.

mBank is not the only one in Poland to have raised its fees. Credit Agricole increased them in January while BNP Paribas is due to do so next month, reports news website Wirtualna Polska.

The Polish government estimates that 1.3-1.4 million Ukraine refugees remain in the country one year on from Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Poland has been the primary destination for those fleeing the war https://t.co/HQB8YAvcpQ

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 23, 2023

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Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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