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18 january 2005

Making bank easier

On 9 November 2004, French banks proposed a series of measures based on the guidelines set by the French Ministry of Finance when it formed the Financial Sector Consultative Committee (CCSF) one month earlier. These measures are intended to make banking easier for consumers.


The main objectives are to:

- enable customers to benefit from competing offerings,

- enable anyone to have a bank account and ensure they are managed under the best possible conditions.

The French banking industry’s commitments

1. To make bank charges easier to understand

Simplify access to banking rates and charges at branches and on websites.

Make bank statements easier to understand, with:

- visual codes for identifying charges;

- more explicit card payment descriptions;

- a glossary of basic terms to enable bank customers to compare products and services more easily.

2. To enable everyone to withdraw cash from their bank free of charge, whether they have a bank card or not

Branches will also do more to assist the elderly, handicapped, visually-impaired and any other persons who may have difficulty in using ATMs.

3. To assist customers with bad cheque incidents

Inform customers of the consequences of a bad cheque incident (including what and when they will be charged) in a letter sent prior to cheque refusal.

Charge a flat rate for each bounced cheque that includes all related charges.

4. To provide customers who do not have chequebooks with a means of payment

Said customers will be offered a "Range of alternative payment instruments" for a moderate monthly fee allowing them to make an appropriate number of payments by credit transfer, direct debit, interbank payment order or payment cards that require systematic authorisation.

5. To ensure that all French citizens have access to a bank account

Launch of a campaign to inform people of their right to a bank account, particularly those who are socially disadvantaged.

Ongoing training of branch staff.

Provision, within each branch, of a standard form letter that explains how to benefit from basic banking services when an application to open an account is denied.

6. To make it easier to switch banks

No charges for closing a current, passbook or similar account (e.g. Codevi, LEP savings book or other savings account).

Make a guide to closing and transferring accounts available in each bank.

7. To promote current account agreements

Inform customers at least once a year and propose an account agreement at each opportunity.

Many of these commitments are the result of previous bank initiatives or have been tested in a branch network, while others were inspired by work already carried out with consumer associations which has enabled their rapid implementation.

Implementation in early 2005

Account closures no longer incur any charges as of 1 January 2005.

Those measures that require more time to inform branch networks will be implemented by 1 March 2005. These include providing more information about banking service charges (brochures in branches or websites), the publication of a guide to closing and transferring accounts, facilitating the exercise of an individual's right to a bank account, the free withdrawal of cash from branches and more assistance for those persons that find it difficult to use ATMs.

The following projects, which require more groundwork, will be implemented later in the summer:

> the flat charge for bounced cheques is to be included in service charge brochures by 1 July 2005;

> the alternative payment instruments for customers without chequebooks;

> the glossary of key banking terms to facilitate the comparison of standard banking transactions.

Lastly, work on bank statements will not be completed until late in the year since quite a bit of time will be required to adapt bank information systems.

The FBF will keep the CCSF regularly informed of the progress of these commitments and a first report will be submitted before the summer.

Some figures

Consumers held 195 million accounts at end 2003, including sight, time deposit, various savings and giro accounts.

Source: Banque de France

French consumers average 218 non-cash transactions per year. The average for Europe is 140.

Source: ECB

There were 25,789 bank branch offices in France 2003, i.e. 361 more than there was five years ago.

There were roughly 42,000 ATMs in 2003, which is twice as many as in 1994.

Source: CECEI

Banking charges in France are within the European average

French bank customers pay an average of 130 euros per year for banking services, compared to an average of 145 euros for all Europeans. This price includes all banking resources, "packages", payment instruments, payment incidents, overdrafts and revolving loans.

Source: study by Mercer Oliver Wyman in July 2004

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