News Article

Consumer group Which? says free banking is 'a myth'

Published 21 August 2012 by

Consumer group Which? wants "fundamental changes to the culture and practices of the banks" and says it has evidence that "shatters the myth" of free bank accounts in the UK.

Specifically, if you went into an unauthorised overdraft for two days of every month, it could cost you between £120 and £900 a year - depending on who you bank with.

Even those with authorised overdrafts often pay something like 19.9% on the money they borrow. Those in credit could be losing out in interest, and banks charge "hefty fees" on overseas transactions according to the report.

In a survey of bank account customers, six in ten (62%) said they had paid a bank charge that they thought was "unfair, hidden or disproportionate". Most people surveyed (94%) want the banks to bring in more transparency over charges.

A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association (BBA), which represents banks in the UK, criticised the report as being "disingenuous", according to the BBC, because the charges it talks about are for borrowing, not banking. He added that customers could access cash and make all kinds of transactions for free in the UK.

Which? isn't the only organisation that wants to dispel 'the myth of free banking'. Earlier this year Andrew Bailey, of the Bank of England, also called free banking a 'myth'. He commented:

"It is a myth because nothing in life is free; rather, it means that we pay for our banking services in ways that are hard to link to the costs of the products we receive."

And the Head of the Financial Services, Lord Turner, said free banking is uncompetitive and damages trust between banks and customers. He commented: "One important barrier to competitive entry into UK personal sector banking is obvious - the fact that the core product, the current account, is usually given away for free, sold at below cost of production. It is not a sound basis for a long-term trust-based relationship between a competitive banking system and its customers."

However, these people who have a say in how banks are run, seem to want to bring in bank charges across the board for every bank account customer. Which? vehemently opposes this. Peter Vicary-Smith, Which? Chief Executive had this to say:

"The suggestion that banks should increase charges to avoid more scandals defies logic and is a slap in the face for consumers… banks must be far more transparent about their fees and charges so that people can clearly see what they already pay."

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