Banks under fire for charging higher fees here than in North
THE three main banks have been condemned for imposing high fees and charges on their customers, while offering fee-free banking in the North.
AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank all have operations across the Border where there are no fees imposed for day-to-day banking.
But the introduction of fees and charges here and gradual changes to the fee regime last year means it costs a family with two current accounts €260 a year for banking.
AIB was rescued by the taxpayer at a cost of €21bn, while Bank of Ireland originally had €4.8bn pumped into it by the taxpayer. Bank of Ireland, which is headed up by Richie Boucher, has since paid back much of this money.
Lecturer in finance at Dublin City University Michael Dowling said that no fees were imposed on customers of the three banks in the North, while charges there could be avoided on the current accounts if customers keep within overdraft limits.
"Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and AIB all offer free banking in Northern Ireland, while Republic of Ireland households face paying €260 in bank fees and charges in 2014 at these traditional high-fee banks," Dr Dowling said.
AIB requires current account holders in the Republic to keep a balance of at least €2,500 to avoid fees of up to 35c per transaction.
Bank of Ireland has a quarterly fee of €5 whether or not the account is in balance. And customers are hit by fees of up to 40c per transaction if they fail to keep at least €3,000 in the account throughout the quarter.
Ulster Bank charges €12 a quarter unless customers in the Republic lodge €3,000 into their account or maintain a cleared balance of at least €3,000 in their account every three months.
Dr Dowling said that, collectively, consumers here were shelling out €192m a year in extra current account fees compared with consumers in Northern Ireland, when taking account of different-sized populations.
He said that a woman in Dundalk who banks with AIB, and whose taxes helped rescue the bank, was having fees and charges of around €130 a year imposed. Her sister in Newry, who banks with AIB's First Trust operation there, was able to avoid fees and charges.
Banking sources said the all-island banks were forced to offer fee-free banking because of greater competition in that market. The retail banking market in the North also includes a number of London-headquartered banks, such as Nationwide, HSBC/First Direct, Halifax and Santander, Abbey, and Barclays, along with Northern Bank/Danske Bank, which is not closing retail operations in the North.
This year the full force of charges that were increased throughout last year are set to impact on consumers in the Republic.
Research released by the National Consumer Agency last week found that one-third of current account customers said they no longer qualify for free banking.
New research commissioned by Permanent TSB shows that bank customers are the most reluctant to switch. Consumers are more inclined to consider switching to get better motor insurance, mobile phone and broadband deals.
More than 40,000 customers opened a current account with Permanent TSB in 2013, with more than 10,000 customers joining the bank since the start of 2014.
Both Permanent TSB and KBC Bank have the best-value current accounts, according to consumer experts.
A spokeswoman for Ulster Bank said: "The market in Northern Ireland operates independently of the market in the Republic. There are different regulations, products, fees and pricing structures across both markets which impact fees and pricing decisions."
Both AIB and BoI also emphasised that the market was different in the North.
'We switched lender after half a century'
EAMONN and Paula Kelly (pictured left) reckon they had been with the same bank for around 50 years. But in the past few months they have taken the plunge and switched their current accounts.
The couple each had accounts with Danske Bank before they met and when they married they set up a joint account. Back then it was called National Irish Bank.
But Danske is shutting down its retail operations, which prompted the couple to make the move to Permanent TSB.
The couple are in their 70s and live in Rooskey in Co Roscommon.
Mr Kelly says they were being charged around €18 every quarter and found it more difficult to bank with Danske, as a while ago it shut all the branches near them – in Athlone, Strokestown and Carrick-on-Shannon.
Because of their age, they now get free banking from Permanent TSB.
Mr Kelly worked with the ESB but is retired. Asked if he was nervous about switching banks after being so long with the same institution, he said: "We were not nervous about it. We knew we just needed to do it. And the switching process could not be easier."
He said that both Danske and Permanent TSB facilitated the switch and did the administrative work for them. And there is a Permanent TSB branch down the road in Longford.