Co-op hikes account fees by 20%: should you stay?

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The Co-Op Bank has hiked the monthly fees for its paid-for Privilege and Privilege Premier accounts by an astonishing 20%. From July, Privilege customers will see their monthly payments increase from £9.50 to £11, while Privilege Premier customers will see their monthly fee rise from £13 to £15.50 a month. Some customers with Smile will also see monthly fees rise from £13 a month to £15.50.

It's yet another bit of bad news for Co-Op customers, who are likely to be wondering whether they would be better off elsewhere.


Is it worth it?

The company stopped offering these paid-for accounts to new customers at the end of 2013, but existing customers were allowed to keep existing accounts. They charge a fee, and in return they offer a number of benefits. The Privilege account offers free family worldwide travel insurance, mobile phone insurance, a £200 overdraft, a legal services hotline - and either credit report modelling, access to airport lounges or gadget insurance. Privilege Premier accounts also offer RAC cover.

Whether the services are worth paying for depends largely on whether customers take advantage of them. The Privilege Account, for example, will now cost £132 a year and if you were to use everything that was available to you, you have a family that travels regularly and an expensive phone, the equivalent could cost you £200 elsewhere. However, if you only tend to go away once a year with the family to Europe, you have a cheap phone, and don't plan to use any airport lounges, you'll be spending £132 for £50 of benefits.

Time to move?

However, it raises the question of whether the Co-op bank is the right place for your money at all. It is currently battling a £1.5 billion black hole of debt. The company told The Guardian that this wasn't a case of customers paying for the bank's mistakes, but was a reflection of the increased cost of providing the account's benefits. It is just a co-incidence that a group massively in debt has started charging more for a product.

In another unfortunate co-incidence, the group raised the price of its energy tariffs just a few days ago.

Earlier this month in its Annual Report, the bank said: "We appreciate that customers and other stakeholders continue to feel angry about how past failings placed the future of the business so seriously at risk. I would like to apologise to them, to thank them for their continued loyalty." Surely by now that loyalty must be feeling tested.

A few days ago the BBC revealed that the Labour Party was seeking to cut its ties with the organisation. It cannot be the only one.

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Co-op hikes account fees by 20%: should you stay?

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.

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