Money matters

Photo of home finances, Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column.
Photo of home finances, Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column.

Current accounts are a vital part of our everyday finances and there are plenty deals to choose from. Some will offer us money to switch our banking to them, cash back when we make payments, or attractive rates of interest on balances. Some providers also boast of a track record of great customer service.

But despite this wide array of options, many of us stick to what we know rather than switch providers.

Which is all well and good if that means we’re generally happy with the deal we’re getting, b ut consumer groups have pointed out that rising numbers of consumer complaints about this sector would suggest otherwise, with dissatisfaction around current accounts actually on the increase.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it is concerned about low levels of customers shopping around and switching. It has also said there’s been very little movement over time in the dominance that the biggest banks have over the market and has raised concerns about potential barriers to newer account providers managing to make inroads.

In September last year, a new current account switching service was introduced with the aim of making it easier for people to ditch their old provider and move to a new one. The service cut the length of time it takes to switch as well as automatically moving payments linked to the old account to the new one. A guarantee under the new switching scheme also promises that consumers will not be left out of pocket if something goes wrong.

More than 1.2 million current account customers have swapped to a new provider in the first year of the scheme, marking a 22% increase on the same period a year earlier.

But campaigners say more could still be done to inject greater movement into the UK’s 65 million active personal current accounts.

So why aren’t more people switching?

Well, it could be that people are struggling to differentiate one account from another. Several reasons have been suggested by consumer campaigners for why this could be the case.

One is the notion of having current accounts which appear to be “free”. Many of us have accounts which do not charge us a monthly fee as long as we stay in credit. But in reality, this can mean that current account customers who are overdrawn are cross-subsidising wealthier customers through the fees and charges they have to pay on their debt.

When people do go overdrawn, the way overdraft charges are levied has also been blamed for adding to customers’ confusion, making it harder for them to compare how better or worse off they’d be if they moved to another bank or building society.

Sylvia Waycot, editor at Moneyfacts.co.uk, says that she has recently seen evidence of current account providers introducing widely varying overdraft structures.

Waycot says it is “unfair” to expect consumers to work out the cost impact of an overdraft which has a daily charge for example, compared with one which displays how expensive it will be as a percentage.

It has also been suggested that more could still be done to take the “hassle factor” out of switching.

Another potential step which could make people more tempted to switch may be to offer them the chance to take their existing current account number with them when they move to a new provider. Bank account number portability is not currently available under the current account switching service.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is looking into whether more people would switch if they could port their existing account number to their new provider, as well as the likely cost this would involve.

The investigation launched by the CMA will take around a year and-a-half to complete, so it’ll be a while before any possible shake-ups come about as a result. It will firstly have to decide whether there are any problems which prevent, restrict or distort competition in the current account sector. If there are, it will come up with remedies to solve them.