Money: After the windfall, where do we save?

Clifford German reports on a tempting campaign
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Nationwide, the largest building society still committed to remaining a mutual society, has chosen the week when millions of members of the Halifax are counting their windfall share bonuses to remind them of what they will be giving up if they stay with their benefactors once they have become banks.

Just to remind them, the Nationwide is opening a free helpline for anyone with a building society account to remind them what rate they are getting on their savings and what they could be getting elsewhere. The helpline will connect callers to a real person who will help to identify precisely what account the caller holds with which society, whether it is a postal account or a telephone account, instant access or notice account, and will then check the current rate for the balance the caller holds, and then compare it with the best rate Nationwide offers for an identical account.

This is partly a labour of love because research by NOP shows that although 73 per cent of savers with money in a building society say the rate of interest they get is important to them, 82 per cent of all investors do not actually know what that rate of interest is. Some 36 per cent never check what rate they are getting and another 28 per cent admit to checking once a year or less.

The helpline is specially targeted at younger (and busier?) savers and at women, because the research shows that only 7 per cent of individuals aged between 35 and 44 know exactly what interest they are getting compared with 26 per cent of over-65s, while only 10 per cent of women know compared with 24 per cent of men. Make of that what you will.

But there is a cutting edge to the campaign as well. It is targeted at tempting savers away from the big building societies as soon as they have handed over their share allocations. Most of the societies converting to banks are able to pay poor rates to savers who are are obliged to keep their money on deposit to qualify for shares, and dare not take their money away, however poor the current return.

Once the free shares have been handed over, converting societies will be obliged to generate profits for their shareholders by charging higher rates on mortgages and paying lower rates on savings, but savers will be free to move their money, and substantial sums could shift.

Nationwide claims that the interest it pays on its own accounts is on average 0.75 per cent higher than most of its main high street competitors across a range of key products.

The comparisons are based on the top 30 financial institutions, a definition which includes the London and Scottish-based clearing banks, the six or eight building societies which have already converted or been taken over and those which are preparing to do so. It does not necessarily include the smaller surviving local building societies who are still committed mutuals and will also tend of pay higher rates on a number of accounts, including Tessas.

"Millions are missing out on our better rates," says Philip Williamson, the Nationwide's marketing and commercial director.

"We are particularly hoping to reach investors with converting building societies, many of whom have been locked in accounts which pay less than competitive rates of interest for two years or more while they make sure of qualifying for free shares."

"As customers become free to move their savings, we are encouraging them to take the Nationwide Savings Challenge and improve the rates they earn."

Call 0500-302010 if you want to take the challenge.

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