Termination threat due to fees: Agree or change banks?

Status: 10/26/2021 10:51 a.m.

Millions of customers of Postbank and other financial institutions are called upon to retrospectively agree to the new account fees – in some cases the institutes even set an ultimatum. What do consumer advocates advise?

By Lothar Gries, tagesschau.de

Postbank, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank, is currently urging its customers to “agree to the contractual framework at current prices” in clear terms. “In cases in which customers do not give their consent, the terms and conditions (General terms and conditions, editor’s note) contradict or not react at all, we have to check whether we can continue the account permanently “, it says in the letter. And the bank also sets an ultimatum: until November 15th.

In doing so, the bank relies on the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) of April 27. In it, the highest German court ruled that the previous practice of banks and savings banks to simply require their customers to agree to changed fees and terms and conditions is legally inadmissible, unless they have expressly objected to them.

Conversely, this means that fees have been paid without a legal basis and consequently they have to be reimbursed to the customer – including interest. Until the end of this year for the past three calendar years, i.e. since January 1st 2018. However, this is exactly what is missing in the letter from Postbank that tagesschau.de is present. In fact, customers will only get the collected fees back if they explicitly ask the banks to do so. For example, the consumer advice centers already have this Sample writing on the Internet released.

Banks are allowed to terminate

Deutsche Bank and its subsidiaries are not the only institutions threatening their customers with termination. The ING-Bank, once known as DiBa, has also sent its customers similar letters if they do not agree to the new fees. “In the end, we need the customers’ consent to continue working with them,” said ING Germany boss Nick Jue. Customers of other financial institutions must also expect to receive letters from their bank soon. For example, Commerzbank said on request that they were working on changing the terms and conditions soon.

For consumer advocates and financial experts like Hermann-Josef Tenhagen, the situation is clear: the banks need a new legal basis for their relationships with their private customers. Anyone who does not react to the letters and refuses to give their consent must therefore expect the institutes to carry out their threat and terminate the account. According to the general terms and conditions, banks are allowed to terminate the so-called payment service contract at any time without giving reasons with a reasonable notice period (at least two months). It therefore makes little sense to defend oneself against such a decision, according to the Hamburg consumer advice center.

A question of feedback

In the end, according to experts, the attitude of the banks will also depend on the return of approvals. If hardly any customer gives his approval, the banks would probably think again whether they actually issue terminations – after all, it would not be in their interest to get rid of all customers. It is questionable, however, that there will be such widespread refusal by customers. According to a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, more than two thirds of their customers have already agreed to the new terms and conditions. Deutsche Bank and Postbank together have around 20 million customers.

The main concern of the financial institutions is not to work with different pricing models. “A continuation of the business relationship on the basis of old prices and conditions, which can also be different for each customer, is not possible for us for various reasons,” Deutsche Bank explains its stance.

No guarantee for a free account

Customers who do not want to agree to the new terms and conditions will have to look for a new bank. There is no shortage of alternatives to the large institutions in the private customer market. There are still numerous direct banks that offer a free current account with regular receipt of money. However, there is no guarantee that the new account will remain cheap or even free of charge.

Consumer advocates fear that at some point all institutes will charge fees or at least attach conditions to a free account. They also point out that switching to another bank is often associated with considerable effort. In many cases, a change is not worthwhile, especially for older customers who are not internet savvy.

Savings banks refuse reimbursement

In the current fee dispute, consumer advocates particularly criticize the Sparkasse KölnBonn and the Berliner Sparkasse. Both institutes reject claims for reimbursement for the fees charged. They justify their refusal with the fact that they made the last price increases more than three years ago and are therefore not able to receive a refund. In the opinion of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), this line of argument is “wrong”.

The consumer center is therefore planning to proceed with model declaratory actions against the two institutes and thus help consumers to exercise their rights. Customers of the institutes could be interested in participating on the website Musterfeststellungsklagen.de manifest.


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