ECONOMY

Unused bank accounts may wind up empty

Small amounts in «forgotten» bank accounts may disappear as banks charge them with disproportionate commissions every month if they show no movement for a lengthy period. In other words, the money in inert accounts not only yield no interest, but is whittled down month after month until it is gone. Say you have 200 euros left in a Eurobank account; you will be charged 2.50 euros per month, or 30 euros per year; at that rate, within a few years the money you thought was in your account will have disappeared. Eurobank is not the only bank to charge such accounts a monthly commission. Alpha Bank charges 9 euros per half-year, or 18 euros per year, for accounts with an average balance below 300 euros. Emporiki Bank deducts 6 euros per half-year, or 12 euros per year, from inactive accounts of less than 300 euros. The National Bank of Greece charges all inert accounts 0.60 euros per month if they remain inactive for 19 to 31 months, beyond which the charge becomes 1 euro per month, that is 12 euros per year. Piraeus Bank charges 1 euro per month on accounts containing less than 250 euros that have been inactive for more than 18 months. Banks justify this practice by citing the high cost of maintaining thousands of inactive accounts. The high charges are meant to force customers either to gather all their small amounts of money from various accounts in one, or to close them. Banks are not interested in keeping customers who not only bring in no profit but also burden them with administrative costs. To be sure, banks now charge for everything: For inert and active accounts alike, for transactions at branch desks (deposits-withdrawals), for transfers of money to and from accounts even at the same bank, for deposit accounts (with operating expenses), for records sent to customers, for direct debits and much more. Sector officials stress that banking services cannot be provided for free. But the full charting of banking services, their cost and the quality of service to customers are matters of vital importance for the banking system and its competitiveness.