Card fee waived for a chosen few

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The Independent Online
GIROBANK appeared far-sighted recently when it bartered with customers over the new pounds 10 annual fee on its Atlantic Visa card. The bank offered to waive the fee for a year if certain high-spending customers agreed not to cut their cards up in disgust.

One Independent on Sunday reader was delighted. 'I wrote cancelling my Atlantic Visa account but then I received a telephone call from a gentleman at Atlantic asking whether I would keep my card if he waived the fee for this year. I accepted the offer.'

Other customers are likely to be furious when they discover they were not offered the same opportunity. The Atlantic Visa card was originally launched by Chase Manhattan and bought by Girobank in 1991. It has 130,000 customers and the pounds 10 fee was introduced last month. A number of customers wrote to Girobank cancelling their cards after being told about the fee. Girobank realised that a proportion of these were profitable customers because they used their cards frequently and also paid interest on their borrowing.

The bank also calculated that some of these people could save money by keeping their card, despite the fee. This was because the interest rate had been reduced, and for people with balances of at least pounds 400 this saving more than outweighed the new fee.

So Girobank telephoned some of these people with the offer of a waiver. Girobank says it only made the offer to some customers because it was an information-gathering exercise. 'We were trying to see if people were closing their accounts for a reason other than the fee,' a spokeswoman said.

Any waiver now is impossible, however. Girobank is adamant that the offer was limited and that the fee for Atlantic Visa is no longer open to negotiation.

The cut in interest rate on the card, from 1.69 per cent a month to 1.49 per cent a month, brings the annual percentage rate (APR) down from 22.3 to 20.6 per cent .

At pounds 10 per year, the card is not the dearest in the market. Girobank charges pounds 12 a year for its Classic Visa card, as does Lloyds Bank for its Access card and National Westminster for its main Visa and Access cards.

Girobank is no longer signing up customers for the Atlantic card.

Best & worst credit cards, page 22