Nationwide may join move to end free banking

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Nationwide, the UK's largest building society, conceded yesterday that it could not rule out introducing monthly charges to its current accounts, claiming it could not afford to be left with the "poorest quality customers" if other banks shut them out.

The chief executive, Philip Williamson, stressed that Nationwide - which has led the campaign to keep cash machines free - had no immediate plans to introduce current account fees. However, he said that if all other banks followed the lead of First Direct - which this week announced plans to charge £10 a month to all customers who pay less than £1,500 a month into their account - the building society could be left with no choice.

"We already have 3.9 million current account customers," he said. "If everyone pushes out the poorer quality customers by charging fees, then they could all end up migrating to Nationwide. We offer free banking today, and that is what we stand by. But you can never say never."