Would Einstein have understood his bank's terms and conditions?
How many of us really read all the terms and conditions attached to our bank accounts?
They can have a big impact on our finances, but how big an effort are the banks making to spell out changes they regularly make to them?
One big high street bank has been asking customers to read more than twenty pages of its new small print, which neither summarizes the changes nor spells out how they differ from the old terms and conditions.
Do you think banks and building societies ought to make their terms and conditions clearer?
Should the banking code be amended with new regulations to cover this area?
Or perhaps you feel it is up to customers to make sure they understand their accounts.
We asked for your comments - a selection of which are below - the debate is now closed.
The new NatWest terms and conditions were highly confusing. I received them in the post, but I was not happy - I could not understand them in terms of what affected me. I have been with NatWest for too long and need to change account - I guess they rely on inertia, but them not communicating properly to me means that moving away from them is now in progress. NatWest say they are not doing anything wrong - true, but it alienates customers.
Glyn Simpson, Southampton
I receive leaflets from my bank every week. They are always offering to sell me their latest product. Because of this I very rarely look at them. This week I have found myself charged a daily rate for going above my overdraft. I did not receive a letter for five days and when I queried this I was told that I should have read a leaflet sent to me in November. I had been charged £6 a day (including Saturday and Sunday) on top of the initial £15 for using an "unplanned overdraft" facility.
A Clark, London
Regarding NatWest's changes to terms and conditions - they could have included a page like the one I got from Abbey for my credit card. Simply three columns: 1) Current text 2) New text 3) Changes - and so the third column tells you what is different or new. This could easily be in addition to the Plain English revised info sent out by NatWest.
C Vero, London
I too was one of those NatWest customers who found I had to acknowledge "receipt" of the revised terms and conditions. What I found totally unacceptable was that I logged-on to take advantage of online banking to quickly perform a bill payment and was unable to proceed to do anything, until I had "read" the terms and conditions. I am looking to transfer my bank account.
Christine Jones, Woking
Spot on over the lack of transparency in changes of terms and conditions. But it does not stop there - my bank recently changed the basis on which it supplies replacement chequebooks. It did not tell customers.
Martin Wright, Sutton
It is the responsibility of the customer to read and understand the terms and conditions prior to sign-up, and to ask for clarification of anything which is not easily understood. However, once the customer has read and accepted the terms and conditions they have accepted said terms and conditions, which then form part of a contract. As companies change their rules to provide cover for events which they had not thought of previously, surely that change can only be enforceable on customers who agree to the revised terms and conditions as they sign-up in the future. If any company sends me a reprint of their terms and conditions then I accept that this will be in case I have mislaid those which I originally collected. If they wish to change the contract between us then they must spell out the changes which they wish to make and allow me the opportunity to withdraw from the (original) contract without penalty - notwithstanding any penalties which may have been in the original contract. Unless I accept the proposed changes, the original contract must stand or be terminated. This is what the company would require if I wanted to change the terms and/or conditions.Leo K, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire
I agree with the comments about changes to terms and conditions generally and NatWest in particular. I also feel that there should be a minimum font size for printed documents, including PDFs which can be printed.
Nick Hands-Clarke, Dorking
Users of NatWest online banking being denied access to their accounts unless they first click a box "To confirm you have read fully the new terms and conditions" - in my view this is a classic example of how not to "Treat Customers Fairly" and, I would suggest, contrary to what the FSA are seeking to promote in their TCF initiative.
Mr D. W. Armitt,
When a customer first starts dealing with a financial company, then they should be expected to read the terms and conditions for their account. However, when the financial company issues amendments they should let their customer know exactly what has been changed; the customer should not be expected to spot the changes. After all, the author will know what they have changed so should be able to provide that information. This is the case even if the terms and conditions are re-written to simplify them, as that almost certainly means nothing of substance has actually changed. If insurance companies can do it for changes to policy details, then so should financial institutions.Mr Laurence Williams, Hockwold, Norfolk
Simple. Banks should be allowed to impose any conditions they like on personal accounts. Courts should not be allowed to enforce them unless the banks can show (1)that the customer has given informed consent to them, and (2) that the specific condition is reasonable. Informed consent is not signified just by a tick in a box.
My main issues with banks and their terms and conditions are: I cannot get paid without having a bank account. Their contracts are non-negotiable. Therefore I have no option but to accept their terms. All banks have similar terms and conditions. My bank uses my money to make interest for them, but pay me a derisory 0.1%. The banks are self regulated via the BBA. The policing body for financial services (FSA) is financed by the financial services sector. So in my very personal view, I perceive banks to be a law unto themselves. If this current court case allows them to continue to "self regulate" and be policed by a body that they themselves help to finance, what have we to look forward to?D Mannion, Paisley
Of course, it is blatantly obvious that the Banking Code must be amended to be absolutely unambiguous on this issue. All changes (or re-writes) to terms & conditions must have to be summarised (and likely impacts too) and clearly communicated to customers. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, sits down and reads through large amounts of small print to compare old and new terms and conditions to find out what the changes mean. I am appalled that this should need to go into a code. This is about basic good practice and showing respect to one's customers. These current "sharp practices" must be eradicated immediately. As a senior banker of 30 years standing I am ashamed of the current situation.Geoff, London
Twenty four pages of terms and conditions from NatWest? A mere bagatelle. About 18 months I wrote to a computing magazine column about Camelot's Lottery Online subscription service: "When I was notified of a change to this otherwise useful service, I was about to press the button (as we all do) to state that I had read them. Then I had a second look. These terms and conditions seemed a tad long. I copied them into Word, where they run into more than 38 thousand words. In 11-point times new roman they take up a respectable 80 pages of A4. Can anyone beat this?" I haven't dared to check whether Camelot has summarized them since.
Nicolas Livingstone, Wallingford
I was interested to hear your piece about bank terms and conditions
today. I received a copy of the Nat West's terms in the post and went
into my branch yesterday to ask what the changes were. The members of
staff were very pleasant and tried to be helpful but couldn't give me
any further information. Surely bank staff should be trained to answer
this type of question and presumably they also need to know about the
details of the changes in terms of conditions of accounts when trying to
sell accounts to new customers. In addition I am quite angry to think
of the large sums of money the bank must be wasting in printing and
sending out thousands of copies of booklets to customers, the majority
of whom will probably never read them. There must be a better way to
keep us advised. L Dunning, Warlingham
My 16 year old daughter has received a letter from her bank to say that her bank account will be automatically changed to another account. Although the letter says that the new account "will continue to offer the same range of benefits as your previous account" within the same sentence it continues to say "please refer to the enclosed brochure and terms and conditions for full details". Having read this I am unclear if the terms are still the same. I normally don't bother reading the 14 page terms and condition booklet, but in this instance I did and was rather shocked by the wordings in paragraph 7.4.1 referring to the use of its cash card: "You authorise us to deduct the amount of any transaction carried out by use of your card, with or without use of your PIN, or by use of your debit card details from your account, whether or not you have given or authorised such instructions." It is the last part of the sentence that worries me. I have always assumed the bank cannot pay any amount from an account without the cardholder's authority.
I had read the new NatWest terms & conditions over Christmas and as a result had contacted the bank for clarification. They now require that for telephone and internet banking, you advise the bank of all attempts to get hold of your details. I get anything from four emails per week to 10 emails per day, purporting to be from NatWest (which they are not) trying to get my details. How to I tell the bank of these (I am often out of the UK)? If I do not tell the bank of an email, even if I did not act on it, am I in breach of my terms & conditions? I am still waiting for a reply from the bank.
Tony Gore, Brent Knoll
The problem is not only with terms and conditions that come with our bank account. While working on my thesis, I found that most internet users do not care to read terms and conditions which are posted on a website before starting to use that website, nor they read them before starting downloading a software, for example. For them it is only one click, but from a legal point of view they might have created a binding legal contract.Enas, Aberdeen
A lot of large companies use endless small print as a way of camouflaging information that might be unacceptable to the customer. No one in their right mind has the time to read all this bumf - especially not the boring stuff from the bank. I would have thought that the Crystal Mark for clear English should be used.
Bruno Martelli, London
When I make a change to a work document, I enable the "track changes" function on the word processor so that everyone affected can see the old/new text side by side. Why aren't the banks, insurance companies, etc. made to do this by the regulator?
Doug Lyle, Alton
The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.