Smart Money - Sam Richardson: High street savers lose out as top-paying accounts now only found online

Q I regularly shop around for the best savings deals. There used to be quite a few banks that allowed me to open and operate these accounts by branch, post or telephone, but one by one they’ve switched to online only. I feel very strongly that the banking industry is forcing people to do online banking in an era of fraud and scams. What can I do?

Answer: Life for savers who don’t want to go online has certainly been getting tougher – right at a time when all savers should be checking what rate they’re earning.

Even if you took out a savings account 12 months ago, it’s very unlikely to be competitive today. Back then the Bank of England base rate was a record-low 0.1 per cent, with bank savings accounts paying similarly rock-bottom rates. The base rate is now 2.25 per cent but don’t assume your bank will have increased what it pays you – in most cases, they’re not required to.

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With inflation at 8.8 per cent, every percentage point of interest counts. Your money is being devalued by inflation and while you can’t match it with a savings account, the closer you can get the better.

It’s worth checking what you’re earning now and what you could be earning with another bank or building society.
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It’s worth checking what you’re earning now and what you could be earning with another bank or building society, using a comparison site. You’re likely to find the top-paying accounts can only be opened and operated online or even, in some cases, are only accessible by mobile app.

It’s not only the best accounts where offline savers lose out. The average rates offered by providers with widespread branch access are significantly lower than online and app-only providers. When we looked in August, before rates really began shooting up, online-only instant access accounts paid 60 per cent more interest than equivalents with branch access.

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Branches, call centres and processing post all add to banks’ running costs, so it’s perhaps to be expected that these services wouldn’t be available with the top-paying accounts. But with the Bank of England base rate at 2.25 per cent, there’s little excuse for some high street giants to be paying some savers interest of just 0.15 per cent.

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Smart Money - Sam Richardson: Make sure you take steps to avoid becoming a victi...
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You can do better than these pathetically low rates and a few providers offer both accessibility and decent interest, though you may not find them on the high street. Coventry Building Society is a Which? Recommended Provider of savings accounts, and you can open and manage an account by phone, post and in branch. Kent Reliance and Skipton Building Society also offer competitive rates and a variety of ways to manage your account.

Not everyone can bank online, whether due to poor connectivity or disability. But if you are able to go online, you can help protect yourself from scams through a few simple tips. Avoid searching “best savings rates” or similar terms. We’ve seen fraudsters advertise and create entire websites to come top of search engine results. Instead, go directly to bank or building society websites or try which.co.uk/money to compare different accounts.

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Be skeptical of emails claiming to be from your bank, especially when they ask you to provide information, download files or click on links. You can call your bank (using a trusted number, such as on your bank statements) to query what you’ve been told.

Staying offline won’t, unfortunately, completely shield you from scams. Fraudsters are just as adept at finding victims by phone – they might call claiming to be from your bank, the police, or another trusted organisation. Hang up, take five minutes to consider what you’ve been told, and, as with emails, call the relevant organisation back using a trusted number.

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Sam Richardson is deputy editor of Which? Money

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