Post Office unveils new current accounts

Three products will initially be offered to customers in 29 branches across East Anglia before going nationwide in 2014

The Post Office is taking on the high street banks with the launch of three current accounts – and has already won the endorsement of a government minister.

It will offer a fee-free standard current account that comes with a debit card and a “packaged” account offering extra benefits for £8 a month. There will also be an account called Control that aims to help people avoid being hit with costly bank charges, but comes with a £5 a month fee.

The accounts are initially being launched in 29 branches across East Anglia, in locations including Cambridge, Chelmsford, Colchester, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, ahead of a full rollout planned for 2014.

A Post Office spokesman said it was offering customers “choice, good value, fair and transparent products with no hidden charges, and access to the largest branch network in the UK”. It boasts more than 11,500 branches – more than all the UK banks combined. However, those looking for a return on their cash will be disappointed, as none of the accounts pay any interest on credit balances.

The accounts are the latest fruits of the Post Office’s partnership with Bank of Ireland (UK).

The standard account is aimed at those who want “free in-credit everyday banking”, plus “no hidden charges or unexpected surprises”. Accounts can be set up with an opening deposit of £100, and customers can request a chequebook and apply for an overdraft at any time.

Like other packaged accounts, the Post Office version offers perks such as multi-trip family travel insurance (European rather than worldwide) and vehicle breakdown cover. It costs £8 a month.

Both of these accounts carry an overdraft interest rate of 14.9% EAR.

The Post Office is one of a number of institutions also offering an account aimed at people who have previously been stung by overdraft charges and others, such as those on low incomes and those new to banking, who are keen to stay in control of their finances. It will stop payments being processed that would result in a customer being hit with unauthorised overdraft charges, but costs £5 a month. However, the spokesman said the way the account worked should save less affluent customers money overall. The amount charged is less than the £10 and £15 a month fee imposed by Lloyds TSB and HSBC respectively for similar services, though Nationwide offers such a facility for free.

The move is a return to current account banking by the Post Office, which was the home of the state-owned Girobank for two decades until its sale to Alliance & Leicester building society in 1990, and could be a timely: anti-bank sentiment fuelled by a string of scandals is creating an appetite for challenger brands within the sector, and the Co-operative Bank is currently having a torrid time.

It comes ahead of new seven-day switching rules being introduced in September, which will make it easier for customers to move from one bank to another.

The consumer minister, Jo Swinson, visited the Post Office branch in Castle Mall, Norwich, as part of the launch. She said: “Customers have real trust and confidence in the Post Office, and with more branches than the high street banks combined, I welcome the increasing role it is playing in meeting the financial needs of its customers. That is why I am delighted to be applying to open a Post Office current account.”

David Black, banking specialist at research company Consumer Intelligence, said that almost two-thirds of current accounts did not pay interest on credit balances.

He said the Post Office’s standard account scored on its simple overdraft structure and a very competitive overdraft interest rate.

“Many current accounts have a raft of different overdraft fees and charges which can be very difficult for consumers to understand, whereas the Post Office has chosen to launch a refreshingly simple charging structure with authorised overdrafts costing 14.9% EAR. It does, however, charge £15 for each unpaid item.”

Black said it was “notoriously difficult” to build a significant market share from a standing start, but the Post Office would be helped by having such a large branch network.

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