Current accounts letting down customers, banks told

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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Banks are still not doing enough to help consumers find the best deals in the current account market, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has said.

Despite ongoing efforts to reform the sector, the OFT said comparing the costs of current accounts continues to be challenging and that people lack confidence in the switching process.

The watchdog has made a number of new recommendations but said it is minded not to refer the sector to the Competition Commission for further investigation, although it will revisit the issue in two years.

OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell said: “Personal current accounts are critical to the efficient functioning of the UK economy.

“Despite some improvements, this market is still not serving consumers as well as it should.”

The OFT said that since it last looked into current accounts in 2008, the major banks had increased their share of the market, entry by new competitors remained infrequent and consumers still only rarely switched providers.

While people have saved up to £928 million a year from the fall in unauthorised overdraft charges between 2007 and 2011, the OFT said overdraft charging structures remained too complex.

It noted that text alerts were helping consumers avoid unauthorised charges, but it wants banks and building societies to do more to promote this service.

There has also been encouraging feedback on the use of annual account summaries which detail what people have paid for their service and provide scenarios so customers know what they will pay if they exceed agreed limits. The OFT said they would be of greater value if consumers had more consistent access to them.

In terms of switching, the OFT said it would ask the Payments Council to look into the costs of enabling customers to transfer their bank account number.

The OFT hopes competition will improve with the sale of branches from both Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, while a new £750m automated account switching service is due to be launched in September.

British Bankers’ Association chief executive Anthony Browne said: “We welcome the OFT’s decision not to refer this issue to the Competition Commission and will continue to work with them to make further improvements for customers and the wider economy.”

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said the OFT’s “damning verdict” showed how badly people were still being let down by banks.

He said: “Everyone – consumers, the government, leading bankers and now the OFT – seems to agree that big change is needed in banking, and that much greater competition on the high street is urgently needed to make the banks work for customers, not bankers.

“So it’s disappointing to see current account providers avoid immediate action by the competition authorities.”

Mr Lloyd added: “If the reforms under way do not quickly make a real difference, the whole of retail banking must be referred to the Competition Commission without further delay.”