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Northern Ireland bank customers set to benefit as watchdog tells the industry it’s time to modernise its ideas

By John Mulgrew

Published 10/08/2016

Our banks have been told to use technology like mobile phones to let customers know if they are getting good value and to act over unarranged overdrafts
Our banks have been told to use technology like mobile phones to let customers know if they are getting good value and to act over unarranged overdrafts

Northern Ireland's banks are facing a shake-up, amid planned changes aimed at helping customers.

Banking customers could avoid being stung by overdraft charges by instructing apps to automatically move their money around for them, under a watchdog's plans to shake up the sector "for years to come".

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) unveiled a package of measures to help customers to shop around to get a better deal, after finding older and larger banks do not have to compete hard enough for customers' business and newer and smaller banks find it difficult to grow.

As part of the plans, banks will be required to speed up advances in technology by putting 'open banking' in place by early 2018.

People and small businesses will be able to manage the accounts they hold with several different providers on one single app.

However, consumer group Which? questioned whether the measures being put forward are enough.

Other planned changes include sending out suitable 'prompts' such as regarding the closure of a local branch or an increase in charges, to remind their customers to review whether they are getting the best value - and switch banks if not.

And if customers go into an unarranged overdraft, banks may have to contact them directly, and inform them of a grace period, to avoid charges. Banks will also have to set a monthly cap on unarranged charges, and tell their customers about it.

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Northern Ireland's big four banks for a response to the planned changes.

A spokesperson from First Trust Bank said: "We have just received a summary from the Competition and Markets Authority of their report into the retail banking market investigation.

"We will now take time to consider the findings of the full report in more detail.

"We have fully co-operated with the Competition and Markets Authority throughout the investigation and will respond directly to their findings, together with the remedies announced by them, in due course. As a local bank we are acutely aware of our obligations to provide clear and transparent information to our customers in what is a highly competitive marketplace and we remain committed to doing so."

And Ulster Bank said it "fully supports competition in the market and we believe these remedies could have a substantial and positive impact, by empowering consumers through increased transparency and ease of switching".

"We want to make banking simple, fair and transparent and we support the CMA's remedies."

A Bank of Ireland UK spokesperson said the CMA report "includes a substantial package of measures designed to improve transparency and increase levels of switching in the market".

"We will be studying the report carefully and will be engaging with our regulators and the Government."

Danske Bank did not wish to comment.

Bacs, the body which owns and operates the current account switching service, welcomed the moves to shake-up banking.

Belfast Telegraph

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