Money Grouse: Co-op wanted to know all about new savers

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BANKS have been in the firing line recently over the information they keep on customers. The Data Protection Registrar expressed concern about a black market in personal information, while Sir Bryan Carsberg, Director General of Fair Trading, criticised some banks for their eagerness to pass information on to other companies in their groups to use for marketing purposes.

One Independent reader was incensed by the questions asked by the Co-operative Bank in its application form for a tax-exempt special savings account (Tessa). The form starts with the invitation to 'tell us about yourself'. It goes on to ask how long the person has lived at their present address, whether they own their house, are tenants or live with relatives.

There is also a request for the individual's previous address if they have lived at their present one for less than three years, their marital status, occupation, number of years with present employer, and employer's name and address. Applicants are also asked for their National Insurance number and the form ends with a stiff warning that false statements may result in penalties or prosecution.

'It reads like an application for credit,' this prospective Co-op customer complains. 'This is misleading if it is an error and dishonest if it is designed for market research purposes.'

The Co-operative Bank admitted this was a standard form used for all services, including credit. It agreed that some of the questions were unnecessary for a Tessa account and said the forms would be reworded. 'The information is not used for marketing purposes.'

However, the bank was obliged under Tessa regulations to obtain the applicant's National Insurance number. There was also an obligation under the banking code to ask sufficient questions to verify the identity of the applicant.

Write to Money Grouse, The Independent, 40 City Road, London ECIY 2DB. Include a daytime phone number. Do not send SAEs or original documents.

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