Ban on unarranged overdraft charges considered by FCA

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Charges for unarranged bank overdrafts could be banned, under one option being considered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

It said the charges for those who go into the red without agreement can be high and complex.

Earlier this month, the UK’s largest lender, Lloyds, said it was getting rid of unarranged overdraft fees altogether from November.

Barclays has already stopped all unauthorised lending.

However, other banks charge about £6 a day, or up to £90 a month.

“We believe there is a case to consider fundamental reform of unarranged overdrafts, and whether they should have a place in any modern banking market,” the FCA said, in its review into the high-cost credit market.

“Maintaining the status quo is not an option,” said FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey. Unarranged overdraft fees were often “significantly higher” than payday loans, he added.

However, the FCA made it clear that an outright ban on unarranged overdrafts was only one option being considered.

It could impose a cap on charges, or demand some affordability checks before a bank lends money on an unplanned basis.

A year ago the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) decided against a capon charges.

Half of all overdraft users go over their agreed borrowing limit, according to the CMA. In 2014 such customers spent £1.2bn in charges as a result.

The banking industry responded by saying that customers were usually warned if they were about to go overdrawn, usually via a text alert on on a mobile app.

“When used sustainably, consumer credit is important for economic growth, and lenders work hard to ensure the balance is right between helping customers to borrow while ensuring longer term affordability,” said Eric Leenders, head of personal banking at UK Finance.

Motor finance

The FCA has also highlighted concerns about the rent-to-own market, typically used by consumers to buy fridges, freezers and televisions.

“We think that is a sizeable issue, because people are paying three or four times more than if they used cash,” Mr Bailey told the BBC.

The FCA said that one option might be for housing associations to provide such goods instead.

Mr Bailey said there were also concerns about motor finance, a worry already highlighted by the Bank of England.

“We’re looking at affordability tests and the transparency of terms,” he said.

The FCA will publish an update on this work in the first quarter of 2018.

Payday loans

As part of its review into high-cost lending, the FCA also looked at how the cap on payday loans was working.

It said that the cap, first imposed in January 2015, had delivered “substantial benefits” to consumers.

Since then, no one has had to pay more than 0.8% a day of the amount borrowed. The maximum they pay is no more than twice the amount they borrowed.

The FCA said its review found that the cap meant 760,000 borrowers in this market were saving a total of £150m a year, that companies were now less likely to lend to customers who cannot afford to repay, and debt charities were seeing fewer people struggling with ballooning borrowing from payday loans.

Mr Bailey said the FCA would continue to focus its efforts on what else needed to be done in this area.


Bank of England strike to go ahead

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A three-day strike by Bank of England support staff will go ahead after talks at the conciliation service Acas ended without agreement, the Unite union said.

Employees are unhappy about a below inflation pay rise of 1%.

Protestors are planning to gather outside the Bank of England building wearing masks of Governor Mark Carney.

It will be the first time for over 50 years that staff at the Bank of England have been on strike.

Unite members at the Bank of England working in the maintenance and security departments will be taking part in the strike.

In addition, staff in the Bank of England “parlours” which are meeting rooms on the ground floor of the Bank’s building in Threadneedle Street will walk out. The staff are involved in a variety of work including security and catering as well as conducting visitors around the bank.

A Bank of England spokesperson said the Bank had been told that the industrial action called by Unite would begin at midnight for three days.

“The Union balloted approximately 2% of the workforce,” the statement said.

“The Bank has plans in place so that all essential business will continue to operate as normal during this period. The Bank has been in talks with Unite up to and including today and remains ready to continue those talks at any time.”

The last time Bank of England staff went on strike was in the late 60s and involved print workers in Debden, who were employed by the Bank of England at that time,

Unite said the dispute centred on the “derisory” pay settlement that the bank had imposed on staff without the union’s agreement. It was the second year running that staff had received a below inflation pay offer, it said.

Unite London and Eastern regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said its members had “been left with no choice but to take industrial action”.

“Mark Carney should come to the picket lines outside this iconic British bank today and explain why hardworking men and women deserve to face years of pay cuts.

“They are struggling to pay their bills and feed their families because the bank has unjustly imposed a below inflation or zero pay rise,” he added.

Inflation was 2.6% last month, according to official figures.


HSBC profits rise as it prepares for UK ringfence

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HSBC has reported a rise in its first half profits and announced a share buyback as it prepares to ring-fence its UK retail arm by 2019.

Europe’s biggest bank reported a 5% rise in pre-tax profit of $10.2bn (£7.8bn) for the first six months of 2017, up by about $500m.

As widely expected, the bank has also announced a share buyback of up to $2bn which it expects to complete by the end of 2017.

HSBC shares rose 3% on the news.

The bank’s shares fell back later but its share price has rallied over the past year, helped by the weak pound which makes profits earned abroad more valuable when repatriated to the UK.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, HSBC has been cutting jobs and selling assets to make the group more profitable, while still making dividend payments to shareholders.

“In the past 12 months, we have paid more in dividends than any other European or American bank and returned $3.5bn to shareholders through share buybacks,” HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver said.

The bank has used share buybacks to offset the impact of shares being paid out as dividends.

The announcement takes the total of HSBC share buybacks since the second half of 2016 to $5.5bn.


Brexit: Race to host EU agencies relocated from London

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EU countries have until midnight to enter a race to bid to provide a new home for two agencies that will be relocated from the UK after Brexit.

The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, based in Canary Wharf in London, employ just over 1,000 staff between them.

The banking and medicines agencies are seen as the first spoils of Brexit by the 27 remaining members of the EU.

About 20 countries are expected to enter the bidding process.

Glossy brochures

There will be fierce competition to attract the agencies’ highly skilled employees, their families and the business that comes with them.

This includes 40,000 hotel stays for visitors each year.

Countries have printed glossy brochures, posted promotional videos online and hired lobbying firms.

The contest has pitched larger countries against smaller ones from across the EU.

The European Commission will assess the entries based on the quality of office space, job opportunities for spouses and transport links.

European ministers will use a complicated voting system to choose the winners in November.


Barclays sets aside extra £700m for PPI

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Barclays has set aside an extra £700m to meet compensation claims for mis-selling payment protection insurance.

The news came as the bank said costs related to the sale of its Africa business had pushed it into a £1.2bn loss in the first half of the year.

The sale of the Africa business was part of Barclays’ plan to focus on the UK and US.

Stripping out the losses from the Africa sale, Barclays posted a 13% rise in group pre-tax profits to £2.34bn.

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said: “Our business is now radically simplified, the restructuring is complete, our capital ratio is within our end-state target range, and, while we are also working to put conduct issues behind us, we can now focus on what matters most to our shareholders: improving group returns.”

Advertising campaign

Barclays said it had now set aside a total of £2.1bn to deal with PPI complaints, but this was open to review.

Claims are expected to rise after the Financial Conduct Authority launches a campaign in August to encourage consumers to decide whether to act before the final deadline to bring a PPI complaint in August 2019.

Earlier this year, Barclays sold a near 34% stake in Barclays Africa Group, leaving it with just 15% of the business.

The company said the sale of the stake had led to a loss of £1.4bn, and it had also taken a £1.1bn charge on the sale.


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