Business

Warning on packaged bank accounts

Image caption Not all packages bring enormous benefits, experts warn

Financial advisers have sounded warnings about some UK bank accounts which charge monthly fees in exchange for extra benefits.

Seven million people each spend up to £480 a year to have these accounts which also offer services such as free insurance or a special savings rate.

But experts are warning that the perks that come with them can be poor value for money, or may be unsuitable.

The accounts are profitable for lenders when customers are in the black.

Banks keen to rebuild their profits are anxious to get their customers to switch to the paid-for accounts, which are more profitable for the lenders than providing free banking for customers who do not get into arrears.

Growing numbers

Research company Defaqto says the number of such accounts offered has almost doubled in the last four years.

It is forecasting a big marketing push by banks, partly because the recent Budget guaranteed every adult the right to go into a bank branch and open a free basic account.

The City regulator, the Financial Services Authority, has said that some packaged accounts could offer great value.

However, it added that there was a risk that banks keen to boost their income might mis-sell products which are not suited to customers' needs, or could be bought more cheaply separately.

The Financial Ombudsman Service, which adjudicates on bank complaints, agrees.

Spokeswoman Emma Parker said that the service had received 500 complaints about paid-for accounts.

"People are either saying that they did not understand how much they were paying for the benefits, or that they never realised there were limitations to the cover provided," she said.

"In the case of mobile phone insurance, for example, this may already be available free on an existing household insurance policy."

Review

David Black, a banking specialist at Defaqto, has reviewed 119 different current accounts, providing 32 different benefits.

"Added value accounts suit some but not others. There really is a big variance in what is available," he said.

"Customers must weigh up the monthly fee of between £5 and £40 with the benefits offered. For example, travel insurance might not cover your children or a visit to the USA."

While the banks agree that customers should study the suitability of an account carefully, they reject any suggestion that such accounts are generally mis-sold.

Eric Leenders, retail banking director of the British Bankers' Association (BBA), said the banks had a range of offers to suit a wide variety of different kinds of customers.

"We work hard to tailor our accounts to different groups, but clearly not all are going to suit everyone," he said.

"It is important to shop around to make sure a particular account offers better value than buying a product separately."

Banks like to call these products "added value accounts". Others might not agree with that description. The consumers' association Which? recently numbered them among the top ten "useless financial products".

But there are times when such accounts can be useful, experts say.

Defaqto cites the example of current accounts which provide travel insurance for older people, who might find such insurance more expensive if they were to buy it separately.

So the best advice is, as always, to check the terms of any account carefully, to ensure that the perks being paid for are not only good value compared to being bought separately but will also meet needs following a subsequent claim.

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