RIP-OFF banks will be named and shamed by the government's new financial watchdog as part of wide-reaching information campaign to tell consumers where to get a better banking deal.
The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority is working on a whole range of league tables that will rank banks and insurance companies according to the value for money they offer to consumers.
Plans for the financial league tables were outlined by IFSRA consumer director Mary O'Dea last month when she addressed an Oireachtas committee that is investigating bank charges and interest rates. "People seem to think that they should remain with one financial institution for their credit cards, mortgages and so on, " she said. "In the league tables we are producing, we will be saying to people that they should not do this. They should go to whatever institution will provide them with the best-value product." IFSRA plans to give top priority to a league table of current accounts. These were identified by the Competition Authority last week as one of the least competitive areas in Irish banking. It has narrowed the scope of an ongoing probe of the banking industry to focus on current accounts and lending to small businesses.
The new financial regulator is also working on league tables that will rank the best-value motor insurers. This type of information was recommended last year by the hard-hitting report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board, which was appointed by the government to find ways of curbing the spiralling cost of car insurance.
O'Dea claimed that the existence of league tables, which will be publicised by IFSRA and in the newspapers, would put pressure on banks to offer better value to their customers.
"The institutions will have an incentive to want to be the best on the league tables, " she said.
"They will want to say this in their marketing literature and to say exactly where they fit in relation to different products." The new consumer watchdog predicted that people would be much more willing to switch banks if they knew of a bettervalue alternative.
"I think the league tables can be very powerful because the reason many people do not switch or are left with higher costs is because it would be a big hassle to find out what [banks] are charging and to wade one's way through the extras, including penalties, " she said. "This is where we should make it easier for people to make comparisons." O'Dea cautioned that it would take some time to gather all the information needed to compile the league tables, adding that IFSRA would learn from the experiences of the UK's Financial Services Authority, which produces similar ranking.
"The UK regulator, the FSA, has done a good job of this and we hope to be able to borrow from what they have done in some cases and learn from mistakes they may have made along the way, " she said. "We have a programme for developing league tables but it will take some time. We will not be allsinging, all-dancing within six months."