Some bribes for the bankers
Sunday 29 December 1996
In the absence of such offers, here are some suggestions from me - and some incentives for the takers.
One, a guaranteed write-up in these pages for the first credit card company to offer a deal where if I spend enough they give a volume discount. This year has seen plenty of new competition for credit card holders. But pretty much all the offers have been about low interest rates and no annual fees. Great if you're someone who doesn't pay off their bill each month, but offering nothing new to the rest of us who do. Fee-free cards are now commonplace and for us bill-clearers the interest rate is irrelevant. What I want to see instead is a fee-free deal where if I run up bills of say pounds 500 a month, I only have to pay, say, pounds 495 to clear the debt. What's in it for the card company? They can charge me their extortionate interest rate if I can't scrape together the pounds 495 (note, the higher the discount threshold the more people would likely be caught short). Meanwhile the more I spend on the card the more they make in commission from retailers.
Another gripe of mine - bank statements not detailing who a cheque was paid out to. Statements give details of direct debits and other withdrawals, even which cashpoint you took money from. But not cheques. It's all very well banks saying you should fill in the cheque stub, but this assumes you carry the whole chequebook round with you. Am I the only person whose wallet won't take a whole chequebook and who instead carries a single cheque for the Luddites who aren't prepared to take my plastic?
Banks say it would be too much hassle transcribing the name on the cheque, which may of course just be a way of saying they'd really rather we didn't use cheques any more.
Worse still, my bank - the whizzy First Direct - tries to charge for confirming who a cheque is payable to.
Again - another unrepeatable offer from me - dump the charges or spell out who the cheque is payable to and I'll willingly tell the world.
Here's one for the building societies: wind up your businesses and hand over the reserves to your customers. Amid all the hot air spouted about whether building societies should remain mutual or not this option is rarely flagged, even though building society members would stand to benefit to the tune of a pounds 300 windfall each. I don't hold out much hope of getting a response to this one - given that building society boards that did raise the possibility would risk talking themselves out of jobs. Arguably though they'd be doing a service to their members (not much of an incentive, I admit). In addition any suggestion of a building society winding itself up might well prompt a higher offer for the society as a going concern - thus offering members a bigger windfall.
And my own resolutions? To dust off last year's resolutions - setting up a savings plan to invest in the high growth economies of south-east Asia and to finally sort out some semblance of a pension - and actually act on them.
A prosperous New Year.
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