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Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching and access to payment accounts with basic features’ COM(2013) 266 final — 2013/0139 (COD)
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OJ C 341, 21.11.2013, p. 40–43 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)
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21.11.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 341/40


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching and access to payment accounts with basic features’

COM(2013) 266 final — 2013/0139 (COD)

2013/C 341/09

Rapporteur: Ms MADER

On 7 June 2013 the Council and on 23 May 2013 the European Parliament decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching and access to payment accounts with basic features

COM(2013) 266 final — 2013/139 (COD).

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 17 July 2013.

At its 492nd plenary session, held on 18 and 19 September 2013 (meeting of 18 September 2013), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 163 votes to 2, with three abstentions.

1.   Summary

1.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission proposal, which aims to give all European citizens access to a bank account and to improve the comparability of fees and mobility, in order to combat financial exclusion and to make it easier for consumers to join the internal market.

1.2

It considers that the adoption of a directive is the most suitable way of implementing these measures which are beneficial both to consumers and to payment service providers. They will contribute to the completion of the single market in financial services and will help to remove obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. However, the exercise of this right will need to be subject to EU rules on money laundering and the financing of terrorism and it must not encourage tax avoidance. Furthermore, the Committee considers that the utmost regard should be paid to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

1.3

The Committee regrets, however, the restricted scope of some of the measures. It would like to see the harmonisation of terminology cover all charges and thinks that the information document should not only include a list of the most representative transactions. It believes that it is only possible to make an informed choice by comparing the charges applicable to all common transactions, each consumer having different needs.

1.4

It welcomes the provisions which aim to improve transparency, particularly regarding packaged accounts, as the consumer must be able to compare the various options offered by payment service providers and decide which is the most advantageous and suitable for his or her circumstances.

1.5

It supports the introduction of a requirement for the provision of a statement of fees and would like this to be supplemented by a requirement to inform consumers in advance of the debiting of unusual fees to their account in order to give them the opportunity to take appropriate steps or to contest the fees.

1.6

Also in the interests of transparency, it favours the establishment of independent comparison web sites and calls for the register of existing sites to enable consumers to have access to information on financial institutions located in all the Member States.

1.7

The EESC also welcomes the proposals on banking mobility. However, it considers that the feasibility of a "portable" account number should be studied and that a system for the automatic redirection of transactions should be systematically established (1). An independent study should be carried out before these measures are introduced.

1.8

It also draws attention to the importance of training staff of payment service providers, information being essential but insufficient. Similarly, it reiterates the need for financial education, provided in particular by independent consumer associations (2).

1.9

The EESC can only support the provisions aiming to give all Europeans access to a bank account with basic features, banking inclusion been a necessity in the modern world.

1.10

It has reservations about limiting the requirement to "at least one payment service provider" per Member State; if there is no competition, this could effectively deny the consumer any choice.

1.11

It considers that the real costs should be taken into account in determining whether charges are "reasonable" in cases where owning and operating the account is not free, and it stresses the need to limit non-compliance charges.

1.12

The EESC shares the Commission's view on the need to provide for checks and dissuasive sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the provisions of the directive. It stresses that the effectiveness of checks depends on sufficient resources being made available to perform the necessary tasks.

1.13

It reiterates its support for alternative dispute resolution systems, providing that they are independent.

2.   Background

2.1

On 8 May 2013 the Commission submitted a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching and access to payment accounts with basic features.

2.2

This proposal follows on from initiatives taken in recent years aimed at continuing the establishment of a single market in payment services, which is essential for Europe's growth and competitiveness.

2.3

The proposal is based on Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which aims to remove obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital.

2.4

The Commission notes that, according to World Bank estimates, about 58 million EU consumers do not have a payment account and approximately 25 million of them would like to open one.

2.5

It points out that the economy is moving towards wider use of non-cash, dematerialised payments by companies, consumers and government, but it does not propose any measures to broaden the use of non-monetary transactions.

2.6

In the light of this, it considers that having a bank account and access to financial services is essential if consumers are to be able to benefit from all the advantages of the single market as well as financial and social inclusion.

2.7

It also points out that current conditions on the single market could dissuade certain payment service providers from investing in new markets.

2.8

The Commission wishes to remove these obstacles, and to this end proposes:

enabling all consumers, irrespective of their financial circumstances, to hold a payment account with basic features in any EU Member State,

adopting provisions to improve information on bank charges and promoting comparability,

establishing arrangements in each Member State to facilitate banking mobility.

2.9

The Commission maintains that these measures will help to make the single market in financial services fully operational and to develop it. Consumers will be able to compare services offered in the Union and move around the EU more easily. Payment service providers will be placed on an equal footing and will be able to benefit from the simplification of procedures and harmonisation of rules in seeking new markets.

3.   Assessment of the proposal for a directive

3.1

The EESC endorses the Commission's analysis of the obstacles and of the need to complete the single market in financial services. It considers that every consumer must be able to open a bank account and be able to use it, banking inclusion being an essential precondition for achieving the desired objective.

3.2

It also supports the proposals aimed at tackling the lack of transparency of bank charges and improving mobility. It considers that they will help to encourage competition, to the benefit of consumers and payment service providers.

3.3

It considers the adoption of a directive to be the most suitable method, the Commission having correctly pointed out that the recommendation had not had the desired effect and that voluntary initiatives had proved highly inadequate

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Comparability of fees related to payment accounts

4.1.1

Terminology. The EESC fully endorses the Commission's proposal to harmonise the terminology used for fees. This harmonisation is essential in order to improve consumers' understanding and comparability. The Committee has doubts about the limited scope of the measure, however, and recommends that the harmonisation of terminology extend to all fees.

4.1.1.1

It notes that the competent authorities in each Member State will be responsible for drawing up provisional lists to be forwarded to the Commission. It considers that the consumer associations and payment service providers, as well as consumers themselves, should be involved in drawing up these lists in order to ensure that the terms adopted are readily comprehensible for all.

4.1.1.2

It points out that the term used must cover identical services at each financial institution.

4.1.2

Fee information document and glossary. The EESC welcomes the requirement for payment service providers to provide consumers with a fee information document containing a list of the most representative services before the contract is concluded, and approves the provision requiring free access to this document at any time, inter alia by its publication on financial institutions' website. It suggests that the presentation of the list should be harmonised. It also proposes that these arrangements should be supplemented by a requirement to send consumers a new information document when any changes are made to fees.

4.1.2.1

It considers, however, that the information document should cover all charges. Limiting it to the most representative charges will not enable consumers to compare the offers of different financial institutions effectively on the basis of their needs. Every consumer has specific needs, which are not necessarily those appearing in the list.

4.1.2.2

Assuming that the information document were to cover all charges, the Committee would be in favour of harmonising the presentation of all the headings. It also recommends harmonising the presentation of information by type of transaction (by month, year and transaction) to facilitate comparison.

4.1.2.3

In the interests of transparency and considering that the consumer must be able to assess the desirability of subscribing to a package of financial services, in line with his or her needs, the Committee welcomes the requirement to provide details of these services in the information document.

4.1.2.4

It also welcomes the requirement to use harmonised terminology in the information document and the account statement, in the interests of readability.

4.1.2.5

Finally, the EESC notes the availability of glossaries. However, it considers that the priority must be to use clear and readily understandable terms in the information documents.

4.1.3

Statement of fees. The EESC endorses the requirement to send consumers a statement of all fees charged at least once a year. This information enables consumers to assess the cost of services sold to them and to choose suitable products. It considers that this is an absolute minimum and that this statement should be provided free of charge.

4.1.3.1

Committee considers, however, that it would be appropriate to supplement this measure by a requirement to inform consumers in advance before any unusual charges are debited to the account by the payment services provider, enabling consumers to take any necessary steps before the charges are debited, e.g. to fund the account or contest the charges.

4.1.4

Comparison websites. The EESC supports the provision of information on bank charges via authorised or public national websites. This measure will help ensure better consumer information, providing that the information provided is independent and complete. The Committee considers that thought should be given to the financing of these sites. The Committee also has questions about the implementation of these tools, particularly concerning the nature of the data to be provided, e.g. will it only cover the unit cost of transactions and services or will it be possible to carry out a personalised calculation?

4.1.4.1

The Committee points out that particular vigilance is required regarding the conditions for accreditation of private operators. It considers that these authorisations should be granted by the competent authorities of the Member States.

4.1.4.2

The Committee also considers it essential that the terms used by comparison websites should be the same as those used in the harmonised terminology.

4.1.4.3

Finally, the Committee recommends that the register list or contain links to the registers of other Member States so that consumers have easy access to the charges of all financial institutions operating in the Union, which will be particularly useful for "migrant" populations.

4.2   Switching

4.2.1

The EESC supports the Commission's proposals, which will help to improve banking mobility, which is essential in view of the psychological and technical barriers to mobility.

4.2.2

It considers, however, that an independent study should be carried out into the possibility of establishing a portable account number, which would be the most effective way of making mobility fully operational.

4.2.3

It considers that, as a minimum, all financial institutions should operate a system of automatic redirection for 15 months to take account of any annual payments.

4.2.4

The Committee welcomes the fact that the Commission lays down conditions for the billing of fees connected with the switching service in order to prevent these fees being dissuasive.

4.2.5

It stresses that other obstacles exist, in particular the cost of transferring certain savings products or the holding of a mortgage.

4.2.6

It notes that information on the existence of these provisions for supporting mobility is crucial. It considers that the bank selected by the consumer should the only party he or she deals with.

4.2.7

The Committee believes that the staff of payment services providers, including reception staff in branches, should be trained in banking mobility and that financial education should be provided, primarily by consumer associations.

4.3   Access to payment accounts

4.3.1

The EESC can only support the Commission's initiative. It considers that every consumer must have access to a payment account with basic features in order to access all the banking services needed in everyday life, where dematerialisation is making itself increasingly felt. It stresses the importance of information provided by banks on the existence of the service.

4.3.2

It has reservations, however, about the proposal to limit the offer to "at least one payment service provider" in each Member State. If one single institution were to offer the service, this would impose a heavy burden on it and would stigmatise both the institution and the consumers who were its customers. Also, the absence of competition would deprive consumers of any choice and would oblige them to accept the conditions, in particular the charges, offered.

4.3.3

The Committee considers that the list of basic services referred to in Article 16 should be a minimum, with each Member State being free to include additional services, in particular services linked to national conditions.

4.3.4

The Committee considers that it is up to the bank to decide whether or not it grants an appropriate overdraft facility.

4.3.5

The Committee welcomes the fact that the basic services will be free or will carry limited charges.

4.4   Competent authorities, alternative extrajudicial dispute resolution, sanctions

4.4.1

The EESC shares the Commission's view on the need to provide for checks and dissuasive sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the provisions of the directive and stresses that the checks will be effective only if the national authorities have sufficient resources to carry out tasks entrusted to them.

4.4.2

It reiterates its support for alternative dispute resolution systems, providing that they are independent.

4.5   Final provisions

4.5.1

The EESC approves the delegation of powers to the Commission, provided that the arrangements are clearly defined and transparency ensured.

4.5.2

The Committee supports the Commission's evaluation policy.

Brussels, 18 September 2013.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Henri MALOSSE


(1)  OJ C 151, 17.6.2008, p. 1.

(2)  OJ C 318, 29.10.2011, p. 24.


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