Banks can’t nibble at accounts

An Athens court has ordered a bank to return to a client the sum of 9 euros (plus interest for 15 months), which was charged to his account as «management expenses,» in a decision that could have broader implications for hundreds of thousands of depositors who keep small amounts of cash in their accounts. A number of banks charge between 1.5-3.5 euros for accounts inactive for more than six months, and if outstanding average balances are below amounts varying between 1,000 and 3,000 euros. In a decision made public yesterday, the court ruled that the general term of contract allowing a bank to levy such charges at will is abusive, as it allows the bank to make unilateral amendments at the expense of clients who are not prepared to contest them due to the much greater court expense and the waste of time involved in such litigation. Therefore, the court found, banks cannot levy «management expenses» on their clients even if the latter have accepted the general terms of contract that apply to the opening and operation of an account. The decision noted that the charges secure banks «vast profits, acquired through illegal means,» from a very large body of depositors, and dismissed the bank’s argument that the sum involved was so small as to preclude any legitimate interest in its return on behalf of the depositor. However, the court rejected a demand for compensation in the same suit, which was tabled by an Athens lawyer. Bank sources said they would appeal to a higher court, and officials of the Hellenic Banks’ Association commented yesterday that court rulings cannot replace bank pricing policy.