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Retail banking report is 'a missed opportunity'

Retail banking report is 'a missed opportunity'
4 min read

Former Labour Shadow Chief Secretary Rachel Reeves writes that today's CMA report into the retail banking market has not gone nearly far enough to tackle excessive charges faced by consumers.

With interest rates at a record low, there has never been a more important time to make sure savers and borrowers get a fair deal.

Lenders must pass on to borrowers the benefit of the cut last week in the Bank of England base rate to 0.25%.

But we also need action to end the exorbitant fees that many people face when it comes to bank overdrafts.

That’s why the report from the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) is such a missed opportunity.  

The report could have recommended tough new action to help those who are getting a raw deal from the banks, instead it failed to rise to the challenge.

In its interim report, The CMA merely proposed that banks should increase transparency by setting a monthly maximum charge cap on overdraft fees, but it left it up to them to decide where to set the cap.

The promise of phone-based apps will help improve competition. But there is nothing in the final report that stops banks charging whatever they like for unauthorised overdrafts.

And it is not good enough to say that encouraging more people to switch accounts is the solution, when barely 3% of bank customers switch banks each year.
The report does not go anywhere near far enough to help those struggling with financial problems avoid sky-high borrowing charges.

Research by consumer champions Which? found the cost of borrowing £100 for 28 days at some banks was as high as £90 – up to four times higher than the maximum charges of £22.40 on a payday loan following a price cap introduced on them.
In the worse cases, some lenders have levied charges of more than £55 a month for unauthorised overdrafts.

There is not enough competition in the retail banking market and the proposals to stop people being charge excessive interest rates – sometimes higher than those levied by payday lenders – are wholly inadequate.

Banks are still charging far too much for so-called “unauthorised” overdrafts – even though, in reality, there is no such thing as an unauthorised overdraft.

I’ve already written to watchdogs at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ask to take further action by imposing a fair monthly limit on the maximum amount banks can charge for overdrafts -  rather than leaving it up to the banks to decide what any charge should be.

I want to see the FCA step in and set an actual maximum monthly cap on the amount that lenders can charge for an overdraft because the CMA proposals are simply not tough enough.

Furthermore, the nonsensical distinction between authorised and unauthorised overdraft limits must not be allowed to continue.  

If a lender is allowing a consumer to go into the red with a so-called unauthorised overdraft, it is by definition authorised borrowing with the consent of the bank.

With its broader remit than the CMA, the FCA should ensure that the monthly maximum charge applies to all lenders.

The CMA have not gone nearly far enough to tackle excessive overdraft charges. Much more needs to be done to make sure millions of borrowers get a better deal.

Given the CMA has not come forward with tough new proposals to address the scale of the challenge, the FCA must now take the necessary steps to protect the most financially vulnerable from rip-off charges.

The FCA has already taken action before by dealing with the exorbitant charges levied by payday lenders on millions of consumers.

It is now time for the regulators to take urgent action to deal with unfair and unjust overdraft fees by setting a maximum monthly cap on the amount banks and other lenders can charge.

Rachel Reeves MP is the Labour MP for Leeds West and is a former Shadow DWP Secretary & Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

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