Windfall losers should raise hell

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The Independent Online
I'M WITH the Woolwich, and so should you have been if you'd been reading these pages for the past few months.

The no-risk, potentially high-reward bet of opening savings accounts with building societies in the hope of pounds 500-plus windfalls has been a top tip I've passed on almost obsessively.

But not everyone's a winner with building society windfalls, and I don't just mean those people kicking themselves this weekend for not having opened an account with the Woolwich.

I'm starting to wonder whether building society customers who are getting the brush-off in bonus handouts shouldn't be getting a little more upset.

Take the Woolwich deal. People who have opened accounts this year are excluded. That's about 40,000 people, most of whom are what the Woolwich's chief executive calls "carpetbaggers" - people solely after a windfall. But the Woolwich also concedes that it would normally expect to open 2,000 accounts in a similar period. So 2,000 potentially loyal savers are given the cold shoulder, too. Meanwhile, plenty of 1995 carpetbaggers stand to get shares.

Compare that with the slipping under the wire at the National & Provincial last spring, where thousands of last-minute speculators (and, no doubt, some genuine savers) are now set to benefit from windfalls from the takeover by the Abbey National.

Elsewhere, 100,000-plus mortgage borrowers were excluded from payouts when the Cheltenham & Gloucester was taken over by Lloyds Bank last year.

Perhaps a million of the Halifax's customers will miss out on its share handout because they have the wrong sort of account or other financial product - one that doesn't give them membership rights. But under the C&G deal, many thousands of account holders who weren't members still got windfalls. And none of the loyal following of the Stroud & Swindon (myself included) directly benefit from that society's recently proposed takeover of the City & Metropolitan, while C&M savers and borrowers do.

In practice, the losers can do very little. But that shouldn't stop them making more noise. That way societies might think twice in future about some of their seemingly more arbitrary exclusions from windfalls. And this could be particularly important currently. I have a sneaking suspicion the Alliance & Leicester might try to exclude its latest speculators.