Tuesday, 27 November 2012

You can stay with Lloyds

The 4.6m Lloyds customers who are having their accounts moved lock, stock and barrel to the Co-op are likely to be pretty confused about their options.

They'd be hard put to work out from the letters and leaflets being sent out to most of them from this week that they can opt out if they want to - and stay with Lloyds.

All they are told about that in the letter is:

"If you’d like to speak to someone about these changes, please call us on 0800 028 0428 – lines are open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays – or ask in branch."

And in the accompanying leaflet:

"If you think that you could be adversely affected by this change, you can send formal written objections – known as lodging written answers – to the Court at Parliament House, Parliament Square, Edinburgh EH1 1RQ, United Kingdom. If you wish to send a formal objection, we recommend you seek independent legal advice. Any objections you have must be lodged with the Court by 22 February 2013."

In fact, as I understand it, Lloyds TSB customers who ring up or go into a branch to object will be able to put themselves on a register of people who want to opt out.

Then, some time early next year, when the sale to the Co-op is closer to being signed and sealed, they'll be told about a formal mechanism to keep their business with Lloyds, even though their branch is being sold.

So why isn't Lloyds up front about this? It seems straightforward enough. If you don't want to be shovelled into another bank, surely that ought to be your choice?

The reason is likely to be that under the rules of the sale, laid down by the European Commission, Lloyds must not encourage its customers to stay.

If a large number objected, Lloyds would keep too big a share of the market and the branches would be worth less to the buyer.

And of course, both Lloyds and the Co-op must be concerned that once customers start to think about which bank they prefer, they might decide to switch to yet another bank.

But there is a serious danger that a misunderstanding will arise. Some people may think they don't have a choice when, in truth, they do.

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