Beat the banks at their own card tricks

IF YOU ask, you might just get. From financial firms, that is. Annual fees on credit cards? Just tell the issuer you'll go elsewhere unless the fee is waived. Admin charges for confirming who a cheque listed on your statement was paid to? Remind your bank that it's made enough mistakes already, so it shouldn't charge for restoring your confidence.

The latest evidence of just what flexible friends credit card companies can be comes from the Consumers' Association. It got 30 people to write to their card issuer saying they were thinking of switching because of the annual fee. Half of them had this year's fee waived.

Card issuers say that they waive fees on a discretionary basis, depending on how often you use the card and what other accounts you have with them. But Which? reckons the outcome seems to depend on which individual customer service person you speak to as much as how you use your card.

With my bank, where I regularly enjoy telling them what to do with their annoying one-off admin charges, I find the trick to overcoming any stubbornness is simply to ask to speak to someone more senior. One rung up the corporate ladder is normally all it takes to find someone who'll wave their magic wand.

INSURERS and pension companies are the worst offenders in the world of finance for using jargon, judging by the now-sorted sackful of entries to our jargon-busting competition, the Great Gobbledegook Chase. Many of the entrants took the not- unreasonable view that companies are not simply mystifying their customers but actually using jargon to hide unwelcome features such as charges and penalties.

Our competition, run in association with Richard Branson's Virgin Direct - a financial company making an effort to produce straightforward product literature - asked readers to send in examples of financial jargon with a humorous translation.

The majority of entries related to insurance and pension policies - a result that echoes the predominance of insurers in the Plain English Campaign's first List of Shame, published recently.

Our winner, who will be jetting off to New York with a partner care of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (a first prize worth pounds 5,000), is Mr Paul Strasburger of London.

Mr Strasburger highlighted a horror in the product details of his personal pension plan from Sun Life Assurance. You are forgiven if you don't get through it all, but this was Sun Life's explanation of how the value of his pension plan was calculated: "The value of the member's fund shall be determined as the bid value of the units allocated to the plan calculated at the respective bid price at the relevant valuation (subject to any reduction for payment before the selected retirement date at the society's absolute discretion and in the case of units in the with-profits fund where those units are not being encashed on death or to provide the benefits payable at and from the selected retirement date multiplied by such factor as the society consider appropriate in the light of the then prevailing financial conditions)." !

This limerick was Mr Strasburger's translation:

"If you want to know the exact

Size of your fund for a fact

Here's how it's deduced

And then reduced

By whatever we choose to subtract"

The winner and three runners-up also get copies of the Oxford English Dictionary to combat future jargon. Louise Barfield of Twickenham sent in this classic: "[The Govett UK Equity Income Fund] has a high level of uncertainty of both the downside and upside return." Worryingly, this comment was in a specialist magazine aimed at helping financial advisers flog investments to the public. The other dictionaries go to Park Sims of Woodbridge, Suffolk, the befuddled holder of a Standard Life personal pension (we won't bore you with the jargon) and Nigel Wood of Birmingham. Even the description of the product his jargon was taken from - an Equitable Life with-profits flexible life assurance policy - is mind-boggling.

Other companies under fire included Midland Life, National Mutual Life, Scottish Equitable, TSB, Royal Insurance and Alliance & Leicester and (whoops) even Virgin Direct.

Keep sending in examples to Your Money and we'll keep shaming the worst.

Happy Christmas!