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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

More Sunlight On #Payment Accounts

The Payments Account Directive (PAD) must be implemented in the UK by 18 September 2016, and the Treasury is consulting on how to do it. You have until 3 August to respond. This post explains the key features of PAD and the likely UK impact, according to the Treasury.

Key Features of PAD

Perhaps the most important feature of PAD is that payment accounts with certain basic features must be made available by banks to all consumers, including the homeless and asylum seekers, within 10 business days after receiving a complete application. Only banks will have to participate in that scheme, rather than other types of payment service providers (PSPs), like payment institutions and e-money institutions (the privileges and state guarantees enjoyed by banks must come at a price, after all). Such 'basic bank accounts' should be free of charge, or subject only to a reasonable fee, taking into account certain criteria, and there will be limits on termination.

PAD will also target the top 10 to 20 types of fee-based services commonly used by consumers in connection with a payment account or current account, and which generate the highest cost. The authorities have to provide that list to the European Commission and the European Banking Authority a year in advance, so they can specify technical and terminology standards in time for implementation by member states. That 'hit list' will be updated every four years.

The idea is we will each get a 'fee information document' in various forms before we sign up to a payment account or current account, as well as an annual statement of fees. We must also be able to refuse any 'packaged' features (like insurance), or get them separately, if we wish.

Member states have to ensure that at least one comparison website compares the fees for the top 10 to 20 types of fee-based services. There are rules to keep the comparison websites honest.

A 'switching service' must enable the prompt transfer between PSPs of information about all or some standing orders, recurring direct debits and incoming credit transfers, and of any positive balances from one payment account to the other, without necessarily closing the first payment account. The information must be available free of charge; and any other related fees that are charged must be "reasonable and in line with the actual costs" of the relevant PSP (except in cases of abnormal and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the PSP, the consequences of which would have been unavoidable despite all efforts to the contrary, or where a PSP is complying with a statutory obligation). Any financial losses incurred by consumers due to switching must be refunded by the PSP without delay.

Similarly, PSPs must facilitate cross-border account opening, which will be interesting to see in action.

The Commission must report on the application of PAD and any proposals for improvements by 18 September 2019.

UK impact

The Treasury reckons about 50 firms are covered by PAD, and while some of the requirements are covered by existing UK initiatives, those firms are facing significant costs associated with standardising product descriptions and statements. The PAD requirements for basic bank accounts also go beyond the UK banks' voluntary bank programme (of course), so regulation is required. Only the UK's Money Advice Service will be expected to act as a comparison site. The 'current account switching service' covers most payment accounts likely to be affected, and PSPs who are not members of it will have to provide their own equivalent that meets the PAD requirements.