Sparkasse in Cologne: Apparently fed up
Christoph Hardt / Future Image / IMAGO
Almost two years ago, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that banks and savings banks cannot simply increase the fees for the account.
In the event of such an increase, the silence or inaction of the customers must not be taken as approval (Az. XI ZR 26/20).
The consequences of the judgment for customers: They could reclaim fees that they had not agreed to.
But they also had to consider whether they would then accept their bank's new terms and conditions and fees or switch to another financial institution.
Savings banks in particular have now terminated tens of thousands of customers who did not agree to the new fees.
What's behind it?
And what can you do as a customer?
First ask for money back
The Federal Court of Justice's answer to the banks' years of practice was easy to understand: As a customer, you can reclaim increased bank (and building society) fees if you never agreed to these fees.
For example, more than 60,000 customers from banks and savings banks have asked for their money back with a sample letter from Finanztip.
The reactions of 430 banks are documented here.
I also received a refund of more than 200 euros for several accounts.
Banks offer new contract
Of course, banks could have gone back to the original fee model that you became a customer of maybe ten or more years ago.
However, it was much more likely from the start that the banks would press the reset button and simply offer to sign a new contract with you at the currently higher fees.
And then you as a customer are faced with the problem of whether you want to accept this more expensive offer from your house bank or not.
Your choice as a customer
As a journalist and customer, I would like to convey the following consideration to you: Banks naturally have the right to charge for their services.
Your bank can too. You may find this offer attractive, okay or outrageous.
You decide accordingly: Either you accept the current offer from the bank.
Or you decide that the bank is too expensive, too unfriendly, not well organized for you - and go somewhere else.
Changing a current account is very easy these days.
And you can find something better than a bad bank anywhere.
The cramp with the decision
Go or stay – banks and customers have been struggling with this decision for 18 months now.
The banks write friendly and ask to accept the new, more expensive offer.
They send emails, make bait offers.
Customers don't see why they should pay more, go to the diving station, don't answer letters and e-mails from the banks, click away the pop-up in online banking, and completely ignore the banks' requests.
Some customers also follow a double strategy: with their first bank account they quickly sign a new contract, with the second and third accounts they wait and see what happens.
There are around 114 million current accounts for the 84 million inhabitants of this country.
From the customer's point of view, this tactic is logical: as long as they don't sign anything, they can continue to use the services of the Sparkasse or bank at low cost.
According to the motto: Whoever blinks first loses.
A number of rude savings banks
Savings banks in particular are obviously fed up with their hesitant customers.
The Berliner Sparkasse wrote to me this week that they had terminated 17,000 of their 1.4 million private checking accounts because customers did not want to sign the account contracts with the new higher prices.
In January it became known that the Sparkasse Köln-Bonn, also one of the really big ones in the republic, had even terminated 38,000 customers.
More than five percent of their checking accounts were affected.
The neighboring and similarly sized Kreissparkasse Köln informed me on Thursday that they had also kicked out customers, but only 0.3 percent of their customers.
The Frankfurter Sparkasse has threatened 9,500 customers, but according to its own statements has not thrown anyone out.
In Lower Saxony, the Landessparkasse zu Oldenburg terminated 22,000 current accounts, around five percent of its customers.
And last October it became known that the Nuremberg Sparkasse had evicted 10,000 customers by post.
Model post office
Postbank's cancellation strategy may have been a role model for the savings banks.
Last spring, Postbank terminated the accounts of tens of thousands of customers who had previously not responded to letters or did not respond in the affirmative.
After the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice, these Postbank customers were able to use their accounts free of charge again, as was often the standard there until 2016, and of course they wanted to continue doing so.
From the bank's point of view, however, they should pay EUR 5.90 per month.
After termination, the vast majority of customers eventually agreed to the expensive account terms.
This was possible because the letter of termination always has to be sent out at least two months before the actual termination.
A Postbank spokesman said this week that fewer than 1,000 account closures remained.
Not all are rude
Not all savings banks are as rude as those in Berlin, Oldenburg or Cologne/Bonn.
Stadtsparkasse München and Hamburger Sparkasse have so far refrained from giving notice.
And when I asked it, it was important for the people of Munich to emphasize that they “neither threatened termination nor terminated accounts”.
There is also a legal debate behind the scenes as to when savings banks are allowed to terminate at all, since they often have a service mandate laid down in the savings bank laws.
The lawyers speak of an obligation to contract.
Cooperative banks are cautious
Cooperative banks are also currently refraining from terminations and believe that they can convince their customers of the new account management conditions without being kicked out.
The Berliner Volksbank writes that it has sent "no immediate threats of termination" and has not terminated anyone.
GLS Bank makes a similar statement.
The largest German cooperative private customer bank, BBBank, reports that in its letter it has “waived passages about the termination of the business relationship” and also “has not yet terminated any business customer relationships”.
Private banks have also remained inconspicuous so far
The direct banks DKB and ING had fewer problems with the repayment of fees in 2021 with the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice because they had long offered many account models free of charge.
In the meantime, however, there are (partial) terminations at the DKB, and she does not want to give specific figures.
At ING, a "small two-digit number" of the three million current accounts is affected.
Consorsbank and Targobank write that there have not yet been any terminations.
What to do?
The strategy for you as a customer is actually simple.
If you want to continue to use the account regularly and without any problems and you find the bank's claim cheap and acceptable in the literal sense of the word, then read and sign the contract with the new fees.
If the bank is too expensive for you and you find the whole deal underground, look for a new account.
It's easy, and some banks still have accounts that are almost free, especially as a salary or retirement account.
If you are a bank or savings bank customer, stress-resistant and you are concerned with the principle, go to the consumer advice center and get advice on whether they are also conducting a legal dispute with the bank on the basis of your contract, the supply contract and the savings bank laws.
But don't let them stress you out or treat you badly.
There are 1400 banks and savings banks in the republic, there is also an inexpensive and customer-friendly one for you.