Julian Knight: Reading of laundering rules is too restrictive
The need for copious amounts of ID when opening and switching accounts is unnecessary and causes long delays
Sunday 27 January 2013
The Office of Fair Trading says banks are too slow and bureaucratic when it comes to customers switching current account. In addition charges are too high it says.
This is one of those "no shit Sherlock" pronouncements as it has always been thus and we didn't need a massive investigation in order to establish what is as plain as the nose on your face.
However, I would suggest a major reason for difficulties switching accounts, namely money laundering rules. When you read the Financial Services Authority laundering regulations – and lord help me I have – they are, actually, quite open to interpretation.
National Savings and Investments for instance satisfies itself with a search of the electoral register to confirm identity and that is within the rules. But, go into many banks and you will be hit for requests for one form of ID or another and often identification documents which satisfies one bank doesn't do the job at another.
I was reading this week about how someone going into a branch of Metro bank with three perfectly serviceable means of ID was turned away. I have experienced this myself at Metro. It is either a case of typical British gold-plating of rules and regulations or could it be the case that actually many financial institutions don't want us to move our accounts around? Surely not.
The EU and you
"What have the Romans ever done for us?" It's one of my favourite scenes from Monty Python's The Life of Brian. The answer it transpires as the People's Front of Judea debate the matter is just about everything that made life tolerable – roads, aqueducts, peace and, of course, wine.
Watching David Cameron announce an "in or out" referendum on the EU last Wednesday, I couldn't help but paraphrase this in terms of personal finances. So what has the EU ever done for our savings, mortgages and pensions?
Not much I'm afraid. The biggest EU measure to impact your finances recently was the gender directive, which came into force last month, which, in the main, has led to increased insurance costs for women drivers and smaller pensions for men.
As for financial services more generally, all we have had from Brussels has been attempts to impose a transaction tax by the French and potentially damaging solvency requirements which could push down the value of our pensions by forcing funds into buying poor-value government stock.
Well done, National Savings
A rare cheery story has emerged from the world of savings. National Savings and Investments – of the ever popular Premium Bonds – has voluntarily moved 94,000 customers from a poor-paying savings account to a new one which offers 1.75 per cent more.
This is the first time I have heard of a financial institution moving its customers to a better paying account – normally they can't put enough barriers in the way of even those customers looking to move their money internally.
Banks rely on consumer inertia to turn a profit from their high street operations. We have all been there; opening an account whose rates look excellent at the outset but soon fall behind the best buys and when we want to move our cash – and crucially keep our business with the same bank – we are told that the shiny new rate is for new customers only.
NS&I's move, although welcome, is unlikely to change this culture which exists among too many financial institutions.
New Buy's 3,000 sales
The Government's New Buy scheme is nearly a year old and although it has to date only helped some 3,000 people buy their first home it's a lot more successful than equivalent schemes under the last government – where only a couple of hundred people were helped.
I was critical at the outset, saying it was a token gesture and that builders were keen on it because it allowed them to shift potentially overpriced stock to first timers. But in saying this I was forgetting the joy that home ownership can bring and many of my fears for the scheme have to date proved unfounded. What's more, the world has moved on.
One upside of Funding for Lending – the Bank of England's scheme to pump £80bn into the banking sector – has been to open the taps a little for first time buyers – this week we had new launches of 95 per cent mortgage products. This is the same loan to value percentage as offered under New Buy.
It seems, for the first time since the financial crisis broke, there is now choice for those wanting to get on the property ladder and that is to be welcomed.
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