Banks collect a commission of 1.5 percent on average when changing 500-euro bills for notes of lower denominations, citing the administrative costs of keeping their branches stocked with notes of smaller value.
When exchanging one 500-euro note for smaller bills, the charge is 3-5 euros (depending on the bank), while the maximum charge comes to 200-250 euros regardless of the amount a customer wishes to exchange.
The commission is only charged when changing 500-euro bills for 20- or 50-euro notes. No commission is charged if a customer wishes to deposit 500-euro bills into an account.
In response to criticism about the commission they charge, banks counter that the administrative cost of supplying their branches around the country with smaller banknotes is unusually high at present with the capital controls still in place and a 420-euro cap on the weekly amount that can be withdrawn in cash.
People started going to banks to exchange top-denomination euro bills after it was reported that the European Central Bank intends to withdraw them as a measure against money laundering. The trend was strong immediately after the news broke out, but has faded since then.
Bank sources explain that following expectations that bank deposits would be subject to a haircut last year, many depositors in Greece chose to withdraw their savings in 500-euro notes because they are easier to carry and store. The cash in safe deposit boxes and mattresses is estimated to total some 20 billion euros.