Last week, Viet Nam News asked for readers' opinions about the Government plan to reduce cash payments from the current 14 per cent to less than 11 per cent for all transactions in Viet Nam while doubling the number of people with bank accounts to 40 per cent of the population by 2015. The plan was approved in an effort to improve the transparency of transactions and reduce cash-related risks. Here are some responses.
Gavin Crossley, Australian, HCM City
Foreigners living in Viet Nam have to adapt to many aspects of Vietnamese life which are different from their own: the climate, the food (about the easiest thing to adjust to), the traffic system (if it can be called a "system"), different ways of doing business and relating to each other and so on. One of those differences is the cash culture. For foreigners this is actually one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of living in Viet Nam.
In many Western countries, the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) is totally banned because of its apparently proven connections to heart palpitations and strees, especially in people taking medication.
Indeed, some restaurant owners have been heavily fined for repeat offences - or even had their establishments closed.
In Australia, it took many years for all Chinese restaurants to comply with the law, most proprietors protesting that the crystaline substance was a traditional additive and was necessary to bring out the flavour of the ingredients.
In Viet Nam, MSG is freely available everywhere. Bags of it fill store and supermarket shelves everywhere. Yet we hear no reports of people being rushed to hospital with fluttering hearts and high temperatures.
How do you feel about MSG being added to so many dishes throughout Viet Nam? Have you any reports on just how deadly the substance is - that is, if it dangerous at all?
E-mails should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org – or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to this week's question must be received by Thursday morning, January 19.
We find it quite quaint to be carrying millions of dong around at any one time. And buying a can of coke for VND20,000 is a never ending source of amusement for us. However, when it comes time to receive one's salary, the cash system seems somewhat inappropriate and outdated, if not dangerous. Having to carry the equivalent of a thousand dollars or more in cash always feels precarious, even though Viet Nam has a very low crime rate compared to some other countries.
Most foreigners have bank accounts to make sure that their money is kept safe from thieves but the limitations of the banking system in Viet Nam also need to improve. Inter-account and international transfers are not yet available on-line, for example. As more people move to credit and debit card systems, the Vietnamese banks will also have to prepare for the rise of card fraud which will inevitably follow.
Le Nhu Ha, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
I think it will be a very, very long time before Viet Nam can embrace non-cash payments. The Government wants cash payments to make up less than 11 per cent of all transactions in Viet Nam by the end of 2015 which sounds good but could be very challenging.
I remember a time when I was charged twice for a purse at a department store in Ha Noi due to a system error. The cashier slid the card twice because he didn't know whether it had gone through. My account was charged double the amount I owed but the figure on the receipt indicated otherwise. Later, the bank admitted there was an error and months later, I was reimbursed. After that, I always offer to pay in cash even at places where they accept non-cash payments.
I also feel that buying items on-line in Viet Nam via debit card or credit card is very insecure. The banking system and the technologies in Viet Nam have not proven trustworthy enough for users to rely on. Just think about the overload of the ATM system across the country; take for instance holiday times, when the machines make so many errors that people can't go home because they can't withdraw their salary.
We can't expect everyone to understand the benefits of non-cash payments. The cash culture of most Vietnamese won't change. However, before we can expect a change, the whole economic system must provide the foundation for the public to change.
Robert Fox, New Zealand
As a traveller from New Zealand living here part time I have absolutely no problem carrying and paying with cash and I fail to see how it could be improved. I wonder who is behind such an illogical idea, as how do they think payments will be made to the millions of street vendors? I imagine the banks to be behind this idea, as they would stand to benefit immensely by no doubt charging for each transaction. Those who need a bank account will open one on their own and people with low incomes who do not need the added expense of bank fee's will not. The system works, so why change?
Frankie Chang, Singaporean, HCM City
I am a Singaporean who has worked in Ha Noi and now in HCM City, and I have travelled to many places in the country.
Although I come from a country where cash-free is the norm, I am just as comfortable in Viet Nam. There are always two levels of spending or financial transactions in the marketplace; small amounts at "unspecified" vendors and larger amounts at identifiable shops. At any given time, one needs to carry a small amount of cash as well as a card for significant spending. In Viet Nam, my practice is the same; cash for the former and a bank card for the latter. ATMs are readily available everywhere in Viet Nam so people don't need to carry loads of hard cash all the time. Perhaps the only setback is the large note values which can bother foreigners. One just needs to get used to it (or learned to overlook the last three zeros).
In short, I am comfortable. It is just like home.
Hong Nguyen, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
Personally, I find using ATM cards to be very convenient for students like me who live far away from home. For example, instead of travelling back and forth to Ha Noi from Lao Cai Province to bring me money, which might cost a lot, my parents can easily transfer money to me via the internet or by going to the bank whenever I'm in need.
I have been using an ATM card since I entered university three years ago. I must say that the ATM card has helped me to save more money than if I were using cash because I have better control of the money I withdraw from the ATM machine.
I also feel much safer carrying a small card around rather than keeping a lot of cash.
ATM cards are undeniably convenient for students like me, but sometimes there are troubles with the ATM system.
For instance, it has been very difficult to withdraw money recently as the Tet holiday approaches. Last week, I went to several ATM machines near my school but none coughed out money. They only offered the message "This machine is out of service." I think they may have been overworked with too many people lining up to withdraw their money.
Once my card was even swallowed by the machine! It took time to go to the bank to get my card back.
I hope that conditions will improve soon so that not only students but also others can enjoy the best benefits that ATMs offer. — VNS