Despite the rapid development of electronic payment systems in Vietnam, demand for cash particularly runs high ahead of the Lunar New Year.
People are queuing at cash points these days to withdraw money for big holiday spending that will include gifts for families and relatives and cash-filled red envelopes meant to bring good luck in the New Year.
Bank staff in major cities have been stressed out in recent days handling transactions for clients who are willing to wait in long lines before opening time. Meanwhile, many people say they've been unable to log in to their bank accounts because the system is constantly crashing.
The central bank has been pouring cash into the banking system to make sure ATMs across the country don’t run dry ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations this weekend. However, several ATMs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have been out of service over the past few days.
“I desperately need to make a cash transfer but despite several attempts this morning, I’ve been unable to access the internet banking services that my bank has strongly urged its clients to use to avoid an endless wait at the counter or at ATMs,” complained Tran Hang, a Hanoi resident who spent about half an hour trying in vain to log in to her online bank account.
Crowds of up to 50 people have been seen outside banks even hours before they opened.
“We have dispatched more staff from headquarters but it’s still challenging to handle this sudden surge in demand,” said a branch director, adding that over the past few days the lights in his office were still on at 9 p.m.
Things are less stressful in the country’s southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City as many migrant workers from industrial parks on the outskirts of the city have traveled home for family reunions ahead of Tet.
“I only had to wait for about 5 minutes to withdraw money from the ATM. Just a few days ago I must have waited for more than an hour,” said Ha, a blue-collar worker at the Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone.
A senior Vietcombank official said demand for cash in the run-up to Tet is two to three times higher than usual as people often get their year-end bonuses just before the holidays.
“We are trying stop our ATMs from drying up but the traffic is so heavy that we can’t restock the machines in time,” he said.
However, it is difficult to calculate exactly how much is needed for Lunar New Year spending and how much is needed to keep the banks liquid.