Midshires `offers poor deal' as customers wait for takeover

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Birmingham Midshires, the building society preparing for takeover by Royal Bank of Scotland, came under fire from a consumer group for offering a poor deal to its members. The attack came as Portman Building Society announced it was lowering investment limits originally raised to combat carpetbaggers. Nic Cicutti reports.

The attack on Midshires from Which?, the consumer magazine, alleges the society is keeping its members guessing on the precise takeover date in order to hold on to them as customers. Meanwhile, they pay over the odds on their home loans and receive less interest on savings than is available from other societies.

Which? yesterday published figures showing that in the 10 months to November this year, Midshires' branch-based Quantum Instant Plus account paid just 0.9 per cent on deposits of pounds 2,500. By contrast, the average rate paid by the five largest societies is 3.7 per cent.

However, Mike Jackson, chief executive at Birmingham Midshires, yesterday denied his society was uncompetitive: "Our Quantum Instant Plus account is one of the best of its type, especially at higher balance levels. No financial organisation can offer top rates at every tier, even the mutuals."

Mr Jackson said the takeover of his society by Royal Bank of Scotland was a "very complex project to bring to fruition".

His comments came as Portman announced it would lower to pounds 100 the minimum needed to open its Instant Access Account, which confers membership rights on savers. The previous limit of pounds 1,000 was imposed earlier this year to deter carpetbaggers hoping for free shares if the society demutualised or was taken over.

Meanwhile, Skipton Building Society is to present a cheque for pounds 400,000 to the NSPCC, collected from members who have opened accounts in the past six months. The society insisted on a pounds 25 donation to the NSPCC for each account opened, to deter speculators.