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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 08:02 GMT
Free current account at Northern
1 coins
Which? criticised the four big banks
The Northern is to become the first of the "big four" local banks in Northern Ireland to introduce a current account free of fees or charges.

It follows criticism of the four largest banks from consumer groups over the cost of running an account.

Last November, Which?, formerly the Consumers' Association, said consumers were being "ripped off" by the bank charges being imposed.

The Northern Bank said its move was in response to feedback from customers.

The cost of running a current account with the four largest banks in Northern Ireland has attracted negative comment from consumers' groups and the media for several years.

Before Christmas, Which? lodged a so-called "super-complaint" with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which obliges the OFT to look into the issue.

The complaint was directed at the Bank of Ireland, First Trust, Northern Bank and Ulster Bank.

Existing customers

It said local consumers were being badly treated by the banks and, in some cases, they were charged up to 21 times more than customers in the rest of the UK.

It had 90 days to decide what action it would take.

It emerged on Monday that the Northern Bank has launched a free current account available to all new and existing customers.

It's one down, three to go - the focus must now be on the other three big banks to make a similar move
Steve Costello
General Consumer Council

There are no transaction charges, arrangement or renewal fees for overdrafts, or direct debit charges.

However, the bank has denied that it is taking the step in response to the super-complaint.

The Northern Bank's marketing director, Rosamond Bennett, said they had been working on the new account before the super-complaint was lodged.

"We have actually listened to our consumers over the last couple of years, we have taken their feedback and we have responded to that," she said.

"But it does take time with the systems we have in place to develop that product and put it on the system."

The General Consumer Council said it welcomed the news as "possibly the biggest consumer success story of the decade".

Council chairman Steve Costello said: "We launched a super complaint into the banking industry here because the market clearly was not working. The Consumer Council wanted market change and we are starting to get it.

"It's one down, three to go - the focus must now be on the other three big banks to make a similar move.

"The banks have resisted change for years and finally, they are listening to their customers. Buy let's remember that this is only the first step in well overdue change, not only in charges, but also in providing better interest on their accounts for all consumers."

BBC Northern Ireland business editor James Kerr said: "With the Northern moving first, the focus now shifts to the other three banks to see how they respond."

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