Response to a consultation

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1 Response to a consultation 12/06/2012 Consultation on bank accounts Question 1: Do you consider that the information provided by banks on bank account fees is presented to consumers in a sufficiently clear manner and easy to compare between banks? What good practices could you identify? What are the persisting shortcomings? Do you think that amendments to the transparency obligations in the Payment Services Directive (2007/64/EC) could address those shortcomings? Basic bank fees (cost of opening a bank account, yearly cost, ) are fairly easy to compare but as regards more complex fees such as overdraft, sending money abroad, withdrawing money from abroad and so forth, these fees are not clear enough. We do not know of any concrete good practice, however, our Spanish member organisation ASGECO points to standardised tables designed for users in order to compare bank fees. This practice would need to be mainstreamed since there has been very little progress in implementing comparison tools across the EU. The main obstacles to providing clear information on bank fees as identified by consumer organisations are the following: Complex and variable business models of banks across countries; Cross-subsidisation; Existence of service packages; The level of charges and charging structures; Useless innovations and varying terminology across banks; Lack of a clear legislative framework. The Payment Services Directive is too general to go into the level of detail required in order to effectively address the problem of transparency of bank fees. Question 2: Do you think that standardising bank account fee terminology could help to provide more transparent and comparable information on fees? If terminology were to be standardised, should that standardisation cover all fees or only some of them? If only some of them, on the basis of which criteria should they be chosen? Should terminology be standardised at national or EU level? Agreeing on a standardised terminology is essential and would be a good first step. Standardisation should cover all fees but with an effort to simplify both the terminology and the number of different fees in order to make the information as clear and concise as possible to the user. The standardisation should, of course, be carried out at the EU level to make sure that EU nationals moving to another 1

2 country for instance find the same information, structured the same way. Standardising at EU level could also help circumvent the problem that in many cases, there isn't even a harmonisation of terminology at national level. An EU harmonisation process could either accelerate the work on national harmonisation or simply resolve the issue by providing an EU solution and avoid going through a harmonisation process twice. Question 3: Do you think that glossaries of terms and standardised lists of bank fees would facilitate comparability? If so, what format and content should this information have? What body/forum would you consider appropriate to develop such a glossary/standardised list of fees? Standardised glossaries and price lists would indeed facilitate comparability but need to be tested by users since many consumer organisations have shown that existing glossaries are not always helpful. As regards the body or forum competent to develop such glossaries or price lists, it depends on the level such discussions take place. At EU level, the EU banking federation and European consumer organisations as well as civil society organisations need to be involved. At national level, it is up to the public authorities to decide which actors are most relevant but must include representatives from consumer bodies and relevant civil society representatives. Question 4: In order to further increase bank account fee transparency and comparability, which of the following tools should be considered: i) comparison websites managed by public authorities ii) standardised cost simulations to be provided by banks iii) standardised representative examples to be provided by banks iv) surveys by consumer organisations/financial ombudsman v) any other tools you consider relevant? Should any of them be made compulsory? What would be the likely costs? At the very least, comparison websites managed by public authorities and/or consumer organisations should be made compulsory. Many consumer organisations already run comparison websites and have invaluable experience in this field. Banks would be obliged to update these on a regular basis. A European website could serve as a portal to national comparison websites in order to help EU nationals travelling from one country to another. Such websites could include further useful information such as how to easily switch bank accounts or how to open a basic bank account and where to complain if the bank does not comply with any of these three matters (transparency of bank fees, switching bank accounts and opening a basic bank account). Point II and III (cost simulation and representative examples) could actually be included in the comparison website as well. Question 5: What level of detail should the information on actual fees paid have and how frequently should it be provided to the account holder? Would having comparable information on the fees actually paid encourage consumer mobility, including on a crossborder basis? 2

3 The information about the actual fees paid needs to be comprehensive and be provided on a pre-contractual basis and thereafter, on a monthly and yearly basis, free of charge. Comparable information on fees could help consumer mobility but it is too early to draw conclusions. More research and testing is needed once comparable information is available to consumers. Question 6: What other measures/instruments should be considered in order to improve the transparency and comparability of bank fees? Please describe and indicate at which level (national or EU) you consider they should be taken. National financial supervisory authorities must be given sufficient resources and power in order to properly enforce and monitor the compliance of financial institutions with EU and national legislation. The information and format must be designed for all with specific focus on small/fine print, and the difficulties that vulnerable users face in understanding information such as elderly people, disabled people, people with learning problems (dyslexia ) or people with mental health problems. Also, public authorities should make sure that no financial services provider escapes the duty to inform consumers properly. Online financial services providers like major websites and virtual payment platforms (Amazon, Paypal) or retail store cards (Tesco, Carrefour ) should also provide clear, transparent and comparable information about costs. Question 7: Do banks in the Member State where you have a bank account offer a switching service? If yes, is it in line with the Common Principles on bank account switching described above? Is information on the conditions of switching presented in a consumer friendly manner? Our member from Spain, ASGECO, testifies that switching in Spain works rather well. The new bank takes care of all the procedures related to the switching and the consumers are fairly satisfied with the switching mechanism. In some member states however, such as Belgium, we have noticed some ironic situations where switching works between two different banks but to switch and transfer all your standing orders and so forth to a new account within the same bank is not possible. This is quite ironic since many banks offer free bank accounts but a consumer cannot transfer all his standing orders and other automatic actions from his old account (with fees) to a new account within the same bank! Question 8: If a switching service in line with the Common Principles is offered by banks in the Member State where you have a bank account, does it remove all obstacles to bank account switching? If not, what obstacles remain? Provide examples of good practices and persisting obstacles encountered. See question 9. Question 9: Should the Common Principles remain voluntary? What do you consider are the advantages or disadvantages of making them compulsory at EU level? What would be the likely costs? 3

4 The Common Principles should not remain voluntary. There should be a binding legislation on switching bank accounts with a proper enforcement and supervision mechanism. The EBIC code after 3 years of entry into force has shown very poor results as far as compliance. Question 10: Should switching principles/measures also cover cross-border switching of bank accounts? Yes, switching principles should cover cross-border switching across all Member States. This is in line with the Commission's will to set up a fully functioning single market for financial services. Question 11: According to you, how important is the risk of having receipts, bills and payments misdirected when switching bank accounts? What measures could be considered to make the switching process safer? Indeed, there are rather high risks associated with misdirected payments. One way to address this issue is by ensuring account number portability since most automatic operations are linked to a bank account number (whether automatic reimbursement payments with health care benefits, salary, social benefits, etc). Although the implementation of account number portability has been estimated to be very expensive (see the Dutch banking sector estimates) there are intermediate solutions to this problem such as the Swedish "Bankgiro" system where a universal Bankgiro number can be reassigned by a user to any bank account. Also, banks should provide for ex ante and ex post reports on the process of switching which would include information on the successful (or unsuccessful) transfer of automatic payments and other operations. Question 12: What obstacles, if any, are still faced by account providers that are smaller or established in another Member State to expand their client base or to enter new markets? Are these connected to problems with switching facilities? Some cooperative or social banks such as the Triodos bank in Belgium may face difficulties in expanding their client base due to a lack of access (or at a prohibitive cost) to facilities such as cash machines and ATMs. Public authorities should support social banking institutions and ensure that they have an access to ATMs and other physical facilities from other banks at a reasonable price. Question 13: What other measures should be considered to improve bank account switching? Please describe. Bank staff requires more information and training with regards to switching. The EBIC experience showed that a users' positive or negative experience with switching depended greatly on the level of information and training of the bank staff. A binding legislation would push a bank to equally inform and train all local bank branches. Question 14: Do you dispose of information on consumers encountering difficulties in access to a basic bank account? What types of obstacles are signalled by the consumers preventing them from having access to a basic bank account? 4

5 The "Reseau Financement Alternatif" (RFA) from Belgium published a report on financial inclusion in Belgium based on the latest EU Barometer 2012 figures. It states that while the 2010 study of SILC (Euroepan Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) estimated the ownership of a basic bank account to 99.1% in Belgium, the 2012 EU Barometer estimates it to be 96.2%. This drop can be explained partially by the methods of the surveys but underline the problems of accurate data on financial exclusion. Furthermore, of those who didn't have a bank account, even if around 30% of respondents stated that they didn't need any, 6% pointed to a refusal from banks due to their situation of poverty, and 13% due to their credit history. About 50% of people without a bank account did ask for one but were turned down, although the Belgian legislation obliges banks to provide for a basic bank account service since The banking sector traditionally requires many documents for opening a bank account such as identification or an address. These requirements are justified in the wake of fighting illegal financial activities. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that many banks across the EU require a national residency address in order to open an account. This requirement should be dropped. A valid address anywhere in the EU should be sufficient. Moreover, the necessity to address the issue of immigrants and their access to financial services is clear when considering these facts from the Spanish experience1: (1) immigrants who do not have access to financial services develop their own parallel "financial services" within family, friends or community circles. The money circulates within that group as they borrow money from each other. This money is therefore not integrated in the economic system. (2) In some cases, these "informal" borrowings lead to abuse through extortion up to down right theft. (3) It is common that immigrants send money back home to their families, relatives or friends. However, since most of them have no access to financial services, they mostly have to use transfer services which are rather costly (such as Western Union). Again, there is a clear need for the EU to harmonize the status of immigrants so that they can meet the requirements to gain access to financial services and prevent the development of a "parallel economy" in their midst, over which there is no control, no accountability and which could foster the development of illegal activities such as drug dealing, money laundering and so forth. The issue of residency does not only concern immigrants. Students, volunteers, stagiaires or anyone without a permanent residency status can face similar problems. It is also important to promote and facilitate so-called e-banking as a means of self-management of debits and credits through an authorised entity (bank), using an electronic signature. There is also an issue as to the reliance and promotion by banks of on line banking which may pose particular problems for people with low income or who currently have no access to/use of a computer/internet. An active e-inclusion policy is needed in order to prevent other forms of exclusion. Finally, access to a basic payment account could be limited by rules on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing. Interpretation of anti-money laundering legislation varies across countries, thus leaving room for exclusion of financially unattractive clients. 1 Information extracted from an interview on the with Carlos Trias Pinto, Director of ASGECO ( 5

6 Therefore, we see an urgent need for harmonising the interpretation of anti-money laundering legislation. Question 15: Are you aware of any measures taken by banks or other institutions in the Member State where you have your residence to facilitate access to a basic payment account? Have these initiatives been successfully enforced? Our French members have briefly described the situation in France. Whenever an individual has experienced a refusal from banks to open a bank account, the "Banque de France" usually redirects the user to the "Banque Postale". However, the bank account proposed has many restrictions and limited features. For instance, there are no check books available to the user. In essence, people excluded from financial services get access to a bank account, but with watered down features, which limits their "inclusion" in access to financial services. Question 16: Do these measures also facilitate access to a basic payment account for non-residents? Non-residents face difficulties in accessing basic payment accounts. In France, for example, the opinion of the Consultative Committee of the Financial Sector (CCSF, Comité consultatif du secteur financier) on the Commission Recommendation on access to a basic payment account stated that CCSF has reservations about extending the right to an account to non-residents, given the legal and technical difficulties unresolved to date. 2 Question 17: If consumers still have difficulties in opening a bank account, what are the reasons for that? See question , the difficulties remain the same. Question 18: If more needs to be done what additional measures should be envisaged? Should the problem be tackled at national or EU level? Basic bank accounts should be provided for free to any individual residing in the EU and the EU Commission should make a legislative proposal in that direction. COFACE also supports the universal availability of a children's savings account in all EU Member states. The charges for basic operations through ATMs should be covered by the bank considering their extremely low cost. Most banks in Europe provide free banking to youth from the age of 12 to And yet, youth accounts for about 15% of the total EU population which means that banks can potentially incur the costs of basic banking services for about 15% of the population. The Eurobarometer shows that an average of 7% of EU citizens have difficulty in having access to basic banking services. Thus the costs of basic banking services could theoretically be assumed by the banks alone. In any case, within the limits of their reserve requirements, each deposit is money that the bank can lend and make profit from. Granting basic bank accounts to the financially excluded may bring in some money that could be used to grant loans or 2 Avis du Comité consultatif du secteur financier sur la recommandation de la Commission européenne relative au compte de paiement de base, 24 février 2012 : 6

7 invest and gain profits. Furthermore, not all financial service providers are totally profit motivated. In Ireland Credit Unions play an important role in our communities already, in providing accessible services. However we also believe that all stakeholders private banks included - share a responsibility for the community good and that corporate social responsibility is required. Just like for youth accounts, basic bank account users could pay for services that incur greater fees to the banks such as international money transfers or going to a teller instead of an ATM. The basic bank account features provided to the financially excluded should be the closest possible to the ones provided in a "youth" account. The reason is to avoid the administrative cost of creating an altogether "new" services scheme for the financially excluded by the banks. Youth bank accounts usually include the features listed by the commission (transfers, direct debits, standing orders, making withdrawals but excluding any overdraft facility). Some adjustments should be made however: on some youth accounts, there is a limit to the withdrawal and payment amounts. These should be redefined and adapted to the needs of the financially excluded. For instance, to avoid abuse and money laundering, the money transfers that could be made from and to the bank account would be limited on a monthly basis to a given number which could be calculated on the basis of the average money transfers of other bank customers for instance. In the event that number is exceeded, a procedure with certain conditions would allow raising the number of transfers permitted. It is essential to stress that banks make a difference between the youth and the financially excluded by assuming that the youth is worth "investing" in as they are likely in the future to become profitable customers whereas the financially excluded are not. This means that some people are seen as "unprofitable" by definition with no "potential" for future development. This perception needs to change and be integrated in the broader effort undertaken by governments to integrate people in society for instance by providing training to reintegrate the labour market. Furthermore, besides the information provided to the consumer on the conditions to be entitled to a free basic bank account (eligibility criteria such as a residential address, etc), information needs to be provided regarding what to do in case of a refusal from the bank, whom to contact, and ensure that the authority in question dealing with the resolution of conflict is accessible and it's service is free of charge (for instance, a free telephone number per country, and several addresses and physical contact points in the country, etc.) Information regarding other free services available at the bank should be provided as well at the time of request and opening of a basic bank account; for instance, the possibility to open a free savings account. Finally, the opening of a basic payment account should only be the starting point and the Commission should engage in adopting a broader approach to promote financial inclusion, covering access to credit, savings and insurance, as well as the growing problem of over-indebtedness, also due to unfair credit and lending practices 3. 3 European Commission, Financial services provision and prevention of financial exclusion, March

8 CONTACT COFACE - Rue de Londres 17, B-1050 Brussels Tel: Fax: Skype: coface-aisbl Web: COFACE is supported by the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity - PROGRESS ( ). For more information see: 8

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