Sunday 18 March 2018

Keep track of your cash as main street banks morph

Louise McBride

Louise McBride

IT'S difficult to keep track of your money when banks and investment companies keep changing their names and disappearing from the main street – and over the last 30 years, a great many one-time household names have vanished around Ireland.

The Irish recession and banking crisis have certainly played their part. The British bank Halifax pulled out of Ireland more than four years ago – citing the tough economic climate as one of the main reasons for its decision. Danske Bank (previously National Irish Bank) and ACC Bank are also shutting up shop here – again, largely because of this country's economic woes.

Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS) were taken over by the State shortly after the Irish banking crisis kicked off. Both financial institutions have since merged into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation – which is itself in special liquidation.

Other household names have simply disappeared from the Irish financial landscape because of rebranding – or because the company merged with or was taken over by another.

"Standard Life, New Ireland and Irish Life are some of the few household names that are still standing," says Jim Hegarty, managing director of the Dublin financial advisers Hegarty Financial Management.

Don't let a name change or a bit of legwork put you off, however – you are entitled to your money.

So where should you head if you want to cash in an old investment, insurance policy or pension which you – or a relative who has since passed away – took out with a company that has since changed its name?

Should that original investment or policy be with Abbey Life, Prudential Life, Irish Progressive or Canada Life, the answer is Irish Life. Norwich Union, CGU Insurance, General Accident Life and Hibernian are now known as Aviva. Friends Provident is now Friends First.

Scottish Provident, Royal Life Insurance and Law Union & Rock Insurance are part of the Phoenix Group. Shield Life and Eagle Star are now known as Zurich Life. NZI Life Ireland has been renamed Acorn Life.

The old Cork Savings Bank and Limerick Savings Bank are now Permanent TSB. So too are Trustee Savings Bank and Irish Permanent. INBS (now IBRC) was previously known as the Irish Mutual Building Society and the Allied Irish Building Society.

The City and County Permanent Benefit Building Society and the Irish Civil Service Permanent Benefit Society are now known as ICS Building Society. In 2009, First Active merged with Ulster Bank and the former has since stopped trading. KBC Bank was previously IIB Bank. EBS Building Society was once known as The Family Building Society.

The danger of all this name-changing is that you could lose track of money that you – or a relative – own.

"There's a lot of unclaimed money sitting in pension funds, insurance bonds and investments," says Hegarty. "People in their late 40s or 50s have often forgotten about pension schemes they took out in their early 20s."

So what can you do to ensure you'll be able to cash in on your investments, pension schemes or life assurance policies – despite any name-changing or rebranding?

First, hold on to financial records such as original policy documents, savings books, bank statements, and any important documents or folders with a financial institution's name on it.

"Make it a rule never to chuck out family papers before you check them out," says Hegarty.

Second, open a joint bank account – if you're married or in a civil partnership. That way, the other owner of the account will know about (and be able to access) the money should you pass away.

"Single bank accounts can easily be forgotten about," says Hegarty.

Bachelors, spinsters, widows and widowers should take particular care to record any single bank accounts – as well as any other investments or insurance policies – in a will.

Third, find out if the company you originally invested or opened a life assurance policy with has since changed its name. You can get a full list of the banks and building societies that have operated in Ireland over the years from the Irish Banking Federation (IBF). This list tells you the current and original name of an institution. You can call the IBF on (01) 6715311.

Insurance Ireland keeps a register of life assurance companies – including any changes to the name or address of a company. Contact Insurance Ireland on (01) 6761820 if you need to trace an insurer.

For those who took out a pension with an employer which they have since left – or which has gone bust, it is important to find out the name of the pensions administrator of the scheme. Contact the Pensions Authority if you hit a blank on this – or ask previous colleagues who also worked with the employer.

The pensions administrator should bring you up-to-date on the value of your pension – as well as any changes to the scheme.

It's also important to tell your employer or pensions administrator what your new address is – should you move house. Otherwise, the company in charge of your pension scheme could find it hard to contact you when you retire – and you could lose out on your pension as a result.

The same applies to any bank accounts, investment products and insurance policies you have. Even if you don't plan to retire or cash in an investment for some time, inform your financial institution of any change of address as soon as you can.

There may be a change to your policy or investment, which you need to know about. There may even be unexpected windfalls.

"Over the years, a number of companies have demutualised, such as Standard Life, Norwich Union and Scottish Provident." says Hegarty. "If you were a member of a company which demutualised, you may have automatically got free shares as a result – but if you changed your address without telling the company, you might not have got them. Many of these companies also paid dividends on those shares over the years."

Free shares are just one reason to keep track of where your money is. There's about €102m sitting in dormant accounts in Ireland – make sure your money isn't part of that pot.

BoI extends stamp duty refund offer

Bank of Ireland has just extended its offer to refund stamp duty – homeowners who are moving to another property can now take it up.

The offer – which refunds stamp duty to the value of 1 per cent of the value of a mortgage – was previously only available to first-time buyers.

Separately, homeowners could save almost €4,000 in interest on a 20-year mortgage of €300,000 by shopping around, according to a survey by The Sunday Independent.

The survey examined the cost of borrowing €300,000 over 20 years to buy a house worth €335,000. The cheapest lender is Permanent TSB, which charges 4.5 per cent interest for a variable mortgage.

Ulster Bank also charges 4.5pc interest – but only for borrowers with a sole income of €70,000 or a joint income of €100,000. Otherwise, the lender charges 4.6 per cent interest.

In the middle are KBC Bank (4.56 per cent) and AIB (4.57 per cent). Bank of Ireland and EBS are the most expensive – both charge 4.6per cent.

It costs €155,732 to borrow €300,000 over 20 years from Bank of Ireland or EBS. It costs €3,724 less to borrow the money from Permanent TSB instead (or Ulster Bank if you have the income to secure the 4.5 per cent rate).

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