BANK customers are being charged up to €196 a year just to operate a current account, and switching to another bank involves "undue hassle and cost".
Annual bank charges can vary by as much as €168, a survey by the Irish Independent has found.
Our survey found a typical customer spends between €28 and €196 a year just to operate a current account. But while the consumer watchdog warns customers they should shop around for the best deal, the Central Bank admits there are ongoing difficulties with the process of switching accounts.
It said one of the main problems was that banks provide poor information on how customers can switch.
The National Consumer Agency has urged AIB customers to shop around for the best deal when the bank pulls the plug on its "free" banking offer next month. AIB will charge customers for transactions unless they have €2,500 in their current account under the new rules.
However, while Irish consumers are the most active bargain-hunters in Europe for switching utilities such as gas and electricity, the latest figures show fewer than 700 people a month switch bank accounts despite the financial savings to be made.
The Central Bank said an investigation it carried out had highlighted concerns about banks providing poor switching information which could cause consumers "undue hassle and cost" when they tried to switch banks.
A spokesman said there were ongoing issues relating to one bank in particular, which it declined to name.
It is also carrying out a full review of the bank switching code, which is set to finish in June.
The Irish Independent survey compared prices using the Central Bank's profile of a typical customer making a defined number of transactions via ATMs, cheques and debit cards, online, at bank branches and electronically. It also includes overdraft facility fees and a number of irregular charges, such as not having the funds to meet a standing order.
We found Ulster Bank has both the lowest and highest prices, with their standard current account cheapest to run at €27.93 a year and their U First Gold the most expensive at €195.87.
A spokeswoman said that was because the U First Gold option gave customers a range of additional benefits, including annual worldwide travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, 25pc discounts on concert bookings and an interest-free overdraft up to €1,000.
Ulster Bank has seen a "notable increase in both customer enquiries and switchers" since AIB announced the end to its free banking offer, she said.
The second cheapest account to run was the EBS Money Manager, which worked out at €40.61-a-year. The next cheapest options were Bank of Ireland, National Irish Bank and Permanent TSB, who all offer current accounts costing in the region of €90 a year to run.
The Irish Independent found the switching process involves a lot of paperwork and customers are advised to pick a quiet time of the month to prevent disruption to payments -- for example, just after their mortgage has been paid rather than before.
Customers must initially open a new account by providing identity documentation to the new bank. They are given a switching pack and assistance with transferring their direct debits and standing orders to the new bank.
The new bank will provide letter templates for you to send to companies such as mortgage providers, utilities and your employer to authorise the changeover. Setting up a new overdraft involves an additional application process but credit cards and savings accounts do not have to be transferred from the old bank.