We have ways of making you pay bank fees

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The Independent Online
We are moving closer to the day when any card can be used in any cashpoint machine. As well as being convenient for customers, moves to share cashpoint machines should offer savings for banks and building societies, in particular in hastening branch closures.

So it was galling that NatWest last week announced that, from spring, it is doubling the number of cashpoints its customers have access to, then quietly added that they will have to pay 60p a time for using the extra machines. Yet customers of most of the banks and societies that own these extra cashpoints - the Link network, which includes Halifax, Abbey National, the Co-operative Bank and most other societies - will not pay to use NatWest machines.

NatWest says it is warning its customers of the 60p charge through a new terms and conditions document, messages on statements and leaflets. But there will be no warning on the cashpoints.

This could be seen as another shabby attempt to reintroduce account charges by the back door, although NatWest is not charging customers for using its existing cashpoint network. On the other hand, it might seem an odd way to wean customers away from branches and convert them to the virtues of "virtual" banking. To achieve that, maybe banks should should think about charging for using branches and making other services free.

ALLIANCE & LEICESTER building society continues to throw away chunks of the goodwill created by its free share handout. For months, it refused to tell savers whether they could touch their money without reducing the size of the windfall they would get. Then it announced everyone would get the same amount: pounds 1,000 of free shares.

Great for most people. But longer-term and bigger savers are understandably peeved they are being treated no better than the speculators who crept in with as little as pounds 100. Peeved too that the society allowed them to languish in often poor-paying accounts before announcing they would not be rewarded for their patience.

Then this week it emerged that some people who joined the society just before it announced its windfall plans - and could be deemed speculators or carpetbaggers - may get the biggest cash windfall. Accounts opened in the first two weeks of January, before the A&L's conversion announcement, miss out on the shares but are entitled to a cash payout of around 11 per cent of balances.

To be fair, most of these people will end up with less than pounds 1,000, but the loophole is still something of an embarrassment for the society. All of which means the A&L might have to work that much harder - through higher rates - to keep savers once they get their free shares. And it could strengthen the hand of a predator who wanted to take over the society.

Either scenario would be good news for A&L's savers.

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The prizes come from Virgin Direct, Virgin's financial arm. Virgin boss Richard Branson and myself will be the judges.

Send your entries, to arrive by Tuesday, 18 November, to: the Great Gobbledegook Chase, Steve Lodge, personal finance editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.

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