Simon Read: Clearer charges doesn't mean fairer charges

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The Independent Online

There was a major move forward this week in the battle to make banks give us fair charges and fees on our current accounts. The Office of Fair Trading has forced the banks to agree to tell customers exactly how much they pay for their account. In the future, statements will have to list all charges and banks will have to send a yearly summary of the cost of accounts.

This is a positive step in improving the transparency of bank charges. At the same time, the OFT is keen to make switching accounts easier so that people who discover they have been ripped off by excessive charges have no worries about switching to another bank. The OFT is working with BACS – which processes payments and runs the banks' clearings system – to reduce the problems that crop up when people transfer direct debits between accounts. The net result should be an improved and clearer current account system, which will help us all.

However, the bigger issue of outrageous charges still rumbles on. As regular readers will recall, a number of banks have been taken to court by customers fed up with being charged handsomely for going into the red. Banks paid out some £559m in refunds to customers who reclaimed the fees before a test case on the issue of unauthorised overdraft charges began more than a year ago.

It has just been transferred to the new Supreme Court, which is expected to back up High Court and Court of Appeal decisions that the charges did come under the scope of the OFT. But then there will be a further hearing to decide whether the charges are fair and, if not, what a fair charge would be. In other words the issue is set to drag on for many months more.

So it's a muted cheer for this week's news about the OFT's victory, and a loud raspberry to the banks for their continued refusal to admit their charges have been out of order.

*A report suggesting that there are too many investment funds was published this week. It's not a view that the investment industry will like, but it's one I support.

AXA Wealth's white paper – "Wealth Management: from recession to recovery" – suggests that the number of funds offered to private investors should be cut by a third because the wide choice confuses people. The company calls for greater clarity about the challenges of different investments and a simplification of the jargon and acronyms the fund industry uses.

It's an important issue as, lets be honest, few of us are really equipped to make sensible investment decisions. Improving our understanding of the investment process will increase our chances of making wise financial choices.

That will become crucial if we come out of recession and into a period of growth and even more so when we face further downturns in the future. With better knowledge we will be better prepared to deal the next time we hit a financial crisis.

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