You might have seen Natwest's new adverts, which have been on TV and in the press over the past few days, offering to hand you £1,000 if they can't give you a better deal than your current lender when you remortgage.
Although this sort of marketing initiative has been around forever – "Find a better deal and we'll give you your money back!" – I've never seen one promising a four-figure kickback. Surely it's too good to be true?
Well, of course it is – although you wouldn't know that from the information in the adverts.
In fact, the offer only applies to the customers of four of Natwest's high street competitors – Abbey, Halifax, Lloyds TSB (and subsidiary Cheltenham & Gloucester) and Barclays (along with the Woolwich, which they also own). Although some small print to this effect briefly flashes up on the screen during the commercial, Bill Nighy's comforting voiceover simply boasts " Lower new mortgage repayments, or £1,000". No mention of the numerous caveats.
These kinds of misleading offer really get my goat. Natwest has of course done its research, and knows full well that none of those four banks offer a cheaper headline rate than its two-year tracker mortgage, priced at 5.49 per cent. However, Natwest's deal includes a fee of £999 – which is more than some of its competitors' charge.
For example, Abbey offers a two-year tracker with a rate of 5.69 per cent, but with an application fee of just £499. On a smaller loan, it will work out several hundred pounds cheaper, over two years, to take Abbey's rather than Natwest's deal – even though your monthly payments will be slightly less with Natwest.
Furthermore, tracker deals are not right for everyone. While Natwest may initially be able to offer you cheaper monthly payments, there remains every chance that interest rates will rise again over the next few months, at which point you'll find your payments going up. For those people who need the certainty of a fixed rate, Natwest's fixed mortgages are not nearly as competitive.
And of course, there are numerous terms and conditions that you must abide by to qualify for its special offer anyway. You can't be borrowing any more than 75 per cent of the value of your property, your mortgage must be at least £50,000, you cannot have an offset or an internet mortage – and so on.
It's pretty normal practice for financial services companies to try to mislead or trick their customers these days. But what really annoys me about Natwest's latest tactics is that its campaign tries to give the impression that it's one of the good guys, that it gives customers what they really want. In fact, its cynical mortgage offer makes it worse than most of its competitors, in my eyes.
I know I've said it a thousand times, but how will confidence ever be restored in the financial services industry while it insists on duplicity in its marketing and pricing?
* One great freebie that you can get your hands on at the moment is Orange's offer of a free return flight to certain destinations in the US or Europe when you sign up to a contract of a year or more of at least £30 a month. You have to jump through a few hoops to qualify, but it could be worth over £200 – not bad if you're simply renewing your contract.8
It just goes to show how valuable your custom is for mobile phone companies. Once you're in the door, the likelihood is that you'll stay for a good few years, and you're bound to end up paying them more than your standard contract fee a month – there are always extra charges when you go abroad or for downloading data.
If you're thinking of changing mobile phone companies, make sure you remember how much you're worth when you're negotiating a new deal.