Brussels, 12 July 2001
Survey confirms bank charges for cross-border payments still too high
Banks in the euro zone still charge consumers too much for cross-border transactions involving small amounts of money, and the introduction of the euro has not yet changed this situation. These are the main conclusions of a new study published today by the European Commission. In view of this unacceptable situation, the Commission intends shortly to propose a Regulation forbidding banks in all Member States from levying different charges for cross-border payments in euro and for corresponding payments at national level. The results of the survey show that bank charges for cross-border payments have, on average, slightly increased since 1999 - despite repeated appeals from the Commission to the banking sector for them to be reduced. Researchers made a series of transfers of €100 in March 2001, only to find that they were still being charged an average of €17.36 in eleven countries of the euro zone (Greece was not included in the survey). The study also showed that 38% of transfers made by the researchers saw charges being attributed to the beneficiary without the originator's knowledge or permission. Detailed information on transfer charges is often not given to customers before they make transfers. As the existing cross-border transfers Directive (97/5/EC), which entered into force in August 1999, outlaws such double charging and requires banks systematically to provide this information, the Commission intends to write to Member States to ask what measures they are taking to enforce the Directive's requirements. The results of the survey are available on the Europa website: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/index_en.htm
"European consumers will not understand why they have to pay so much for cross-border transactions in the euro zone when using the same currency everywhere after the introduction of the euro. Quick improvements are needed. Consumers expect from banks to reduce their charges for transferring small amounts of money", said Commissioner David Byrne, responsible for Health and Consumer Protection. "I am also convinced that banks could do more in the light of a greater integration of banking services throughout the EU and the increasing automation of transactions. The results of our study raise doubts on the effectiveness of competition in this sector if one looks at the high average level of fees that consumers have to pay for this service", David Byrne said. The results of the study, which was carried out by the Institut Européen Interrégional de la Consommation (IEIC) on behalf of the European Commission, will also increase the public pressure for banks to tackle the issue of high charges for cross-border transactions in the context of the euro. "I am urging consumers to make more systematic use of the out-of-court redress bodies in each of the Member States where problems of this type occur and are not settled with the bank", David Byrne said.
An EU-wide network of bodies to help businesses and consumers resolve financial services disputes out-of-court, called FIN-NET, was launched by the Commission in February 2001 (see IP/01/152).
The Commission also encourages consumers to use administrative and/or judiciary procedures to seek redress. The full list of the FIN-NET out of court redress bodies is available on the Europa Website at:
Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein added: "The single currency is designed to make the Internal Market work better and to aid price clarity within the euro zone. We shall have failed in our aims if bank charges remain an obstacle to cross-border transactions."
The Commission has repeatedly urged the banks to set up cross-border payment systems for small amounts of money. Since the introduction of the euro, the Commission has been stressing the urgent need for an effective reduction in bank charges for such payments, as set out in the context of the previous survey of 1999 (see IP/00/505) and in its Communication of January 2000 on Retail Payments in the Internal Market (see IP/00/108). In addition, in its Communication of 3 April 2001 on preparations for introducing euro coins and bank notes, the Commission said it was concerned at how little real progress had been made by banks in setting up a retail payment system in the euro zone and that it "will consider using all the instruments at its disposal and will take all the steps necessary to ensure that the costs of cross-border transactions are brought more closely into line with the costs of domestic transactions on 1 January 2002".
The cost of cross-border transactions
On average, charges for cross-border transfer transactions have been slightly increased by banks from €17.10 in 1999 to €17.36 in 2001. The averages do, however, reflect differing situations in the various countries: in Belgium, Germany and Finland, charges have been reduced, while in the other countries there have been increases, in some cases even on a substantial scale, as in Austria (+64.02%: from €10.61 in 1999 to €17.40 in 2001).
There are still significant differences in charges for similar cross-border payments between banks within the same country. The deviation between minimum and maximum charges by banks in the same country on cross-border transfers are often amazing: in Italy, where the deviation is the largest, bank charges range from €6.20 to €43.40 for a cross-border transfer of €100. Only in Luxembourg is the difference between the lowest bank charges (€8.13) and the highest ones (€10.24) is below ten euro. Some concrete examples for bank charges on a transfer of €100 from banks in country x to banks in country Y: Bank Austria charged €38.29 for a transfer to Ambrosiano Veneto and €27.44 for a transfer to Caritro, both Italian banks. The Österreichische Postsparkasse charged €9.45 for a transfer to Ambrosiano Veneto and Austrian Creditanstalt €14.14 for a transfer to Caritro. The Allied Irish Bank charged €30.86 for a transfer to Finnish bank Okopankki whereas the Bank of Ireland charged €16.51 for a transfer to Okopankki.
Charges for a cross-border transaction between the same two banks can be very different depending on the direction of the transaction; in other words, charges levied for a cross-border transaction from bank A to bank B are not the same as for the same cross-border transaction from bank B to bank A. Some concrete examples for bank charges for a transfer of €100 from bank A in country X to bank B in country Y and vice versa: Spanish BBV Argentaria charged €7.51 for a transfer to Portuguese C. Geral de Depositos whereas the latter charged €26.28 for a transfer to the former bank (249.93% difference).
BBV Argentaria charged €13.75 for a transfer to Banco Espirito Santo which charged €34.29 for a transfer to the former bank (149.38% difference). French Crédit Agricole charged €5.47 for a transfer to Dutch bank Van Lanschot which charged €12.69 for the same exercise to Crédit Agricole (131.99% difference). Van Lanschot charged €39.88 for a transfer to French Crédit Mutuel which charged €25.31 for a transfer to the former (57.57% difference). Crédit Agricole charged €12.28 for a transfer to Dutch ABN which charged €6.81 for a transfer to the former (44.54% difference). Belgian Fortis Banque charged €8.25 for a transfer to German BfG Bank which charged €16.35 for a transfer to Fortis (98.18% difference).
Double charging and time delays
The survey also shows that bank practices frequently do not comply with the cross-border transfers Directive (97/5/EC) as regards the maximum time taken for effecting a transfer, charging any costs to the sender by default (no unauthorised double charging), and the compulsory information with which the client has to be supplied:
The use of bank cards abroad: payments and cash withdrawals
Researchers also looked into the costs of payments by bank or credit cards abroad and cash withdrawals with them. Transactions involving a bank or credit card are generally less costly for consumers than cross-border credit transfers, but still cost more than within one country. Charges for a payment abroad by card for a purchase worth approximately €25 were on average 16 cent in EUR 11, but no charges arose in Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain (researchers used Visa, Eurocard and Maestro - annual charges for using a card are not included). For consumers, the cheapest form of payments abroad in the euro zone often remains the bank card.
Charges by the card-issuing country for a withdrawal of approximately €100 from a cash dispenser in another euro zone country are on average €4.17 in EUR 11 (4.16%(1), up from 3.84% in 1999), ranging from €1.75 in Ireland (1.64% of €106.71 withdrawn) to €5.50 in Portugal (5.38% of €102.17 withdrawn).
Charges for a withdrawal of approx. €50 are slightly higher with an average of €3.36 or 6.83% of the sum withdrawn (6.14% in 1999).
The average cost of exchanging banknotes in a bank, the third part of the survey, is €2.95 for approx. €50 in EUR 11 (the amount exchanged varied slightly in each country) or 6.11%. Average charges were highest with French banks (€6.85 or 15.09%) and lowest in Belgium (€1.06 or 2.07%).
Contact: Thorsten MÜNCH: 02/296.10.63 Jonathan TODD: 02/299.41.07 - Gerassimos THOMAS: 02/299.3442
Summary results of the 2001 survey conducted by the European Inter-Regional Institute of Consumer Affairs for the European Commission
Remarks concerning the methodology
The survey covers all countries in the euro zone with the exception of Greece, but does not cover all possible combinations of countries. As a result, there may be a certain bias in the results in that they may not always reflect the full picture for each country vis-à-vis the other ten.
The survey focuses on the following transactions:
- 352 transfers, each of €100;
- 44 card purchases, each of €25;
- 88 withdrawals from automatic cash dispensers (44 withdrawals each of €50, and a further 44 each of €100).
Under the principle of equivalence and the euro rules(2), it makes no difference to the charges whether the transactions are in euro or in their equivalent in national currencies.
The purpose of the survey was simply to take a market sample and bring out whatever is and is not working properly. As a result, the averages should only be extrapolated from with great care.
Transfers of €100
Overall average cost of a transfer from the point of view of the country of origin
(average costs arising for the sender + average costs payable by the beneficiary)
The results show disparities between the various countries, but also conceal disparities within one and the same country (e.g. of between €7.67 and €20.44 in Germany, between €6.20 and €43.40 in Italy etc.). These disparities are smaller than in 1999, probably because of the competitive pressure among operators, but this is not necessarily reflected in lower charges.
As in 1999, the cost of transactions in one direction is very different from the cost of a similar transaction in the opposite direction. For instance, transfers from Germany to Belgium cost the investigators 35% more than transfers from Belgium to Germany, despite the fact that the same two banks were involved in both cases. Similarly, transfers from Spain to Portugal cost 40% more than from Portugal to Spain. The conclusion has to be that cost is not the only element which determines the price.
In 38% of cases, costs were charged to be beneficiary without the sender's permission. Here again, there is a big disparity between the various countries: 10.09% of transfers to Germany were doubled charged, while for 70.63% of transfers to Portugal, costs were charged to be beneficiary. Not a single transfer from Germany incurred costs for the recipient, while at the other end of the scale, 77% of transfers from Spain were double charged.
The average time lag was less than in 1999 (3.31 days compared with 3.41). The reduction was particularly significant in certain countries, e.g. Spain and Portugal.
Even so, 6.02% of transfers took seven days or more (and were therefore in violation of Directive 97/5), which is a higher figure than in 1999 (5.14%). It has to be said, though, that such cases are concentrated on particular countries, more especially Ireland.
Card payments abroad for amounts of €25
Costs from the point of view of the country of origin of the card
The averages per country have to be treated with caution as they reflect a limited sample of transactions using types of card which can differ from one country to another. Nonetheless, the point can be made that average costs for a €25 card purchase are to a single decimal place, and hence very close to the costs of national transactions.
Dispenser withdrawals of €100
There has been progress for transactions involving Austrian, Portuguese and Belgian cards, but a substantial increase for French and Dutch cards in particular. It has to be said, though, that these results have not been considered in conjunction with any change in the annual charges levied on card users.
(1) There is a difference between the charges in euro and the percentage rate because it is not possible to withdraw the same sum of exactly €100 in all countries due to the diversity of banknotes
(2) See recommendation of 23 April 1998 concerning bank charges for conversions to the euro (OJ L 130/22 of 1.5.1998).