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Are you baffled by your bank’s T&Cs?

Man doing test

If you need to find out an essential piece of info about your bank account, turning to the T&Cs is a daunting process. Yet they’re often into the thousands of words and littered with incomprehensible language.

If you’re baffled by your bank’s small print, you’re not alone. We put the T&Cs of the UK’s eight largest banks and building societies to the test – asking members of the public to find five key pieces of information buried away in the banking tombs. The results confirmed our worst suspicions.

Our candidates failed to find the information they were looking for in two out of five cases. And it took one person more than 17 minutes to find a piece of information in First Direct’s T&Cs.

Lengthy and confusing bank T&Cs

In fact, for the best performer in our tests, only 67% of people answered questions correctly for NatWest’s T&Cs – the worst was Lloyds TSB, in which only 53% of our testers could find the right answers. The results are shown in the graphic below (click to enlarge):

Bank terms and conditions test

It’s not just searching for the right answers that’s made difficult by your bank. Only one in 10 people told us they’d read their bank account’s T&Cs in full before opening up the account.

Given the length of them, it’s no surprise. HSBC’s T&Cs run to a staggering 29,006 words – just shy of Hamlet, while First Direct’s T&Cs are just over 25,000. If you were handed the financial equivalent of the Magna Carta, would you bother reading them either?

Make your T&Cs clear and succinct

Packed within these lengthy documents were lots of jargon, small text and no contents pages or indices to refer to. And many used terms that just made no sense, or could have been summarised much more clearly. For example, one of NatWest’s terms states:

‘We may transfer, assign, or pass our rights or obligations under this agreement or arrange for any other person or organisation (a transferee) to carry out our rights or obligations under this agreement.’

This could’ve been neatly summarised as; ‘your account could be transferred to another bank.’

Meanwhile, Santander stated that:

‘We can change interest rates providing… we give you no less than 14 days’ personal notice where your account is a Non-payment Account and the change is a decrease to your interest rate that is material…Whether the decrease to the interest rate is “material” will be determined by us.’

This translates to; ‘We can make small cuts to the interest rate on your savings account without telling you beforehand.’

Banking products are complex, so it’s important that banks present their T&Cs in clear, concise, well-indexed and jargon-free documents that are easy for their customers to use. The concern is that people will either be too baffled to understand what they’re buying or sleepwalking into a product that’s not right for them.

Have you read your bank’s T&Cs, and how do you think banks could fix them?

Comments
Guest

Yes I’ve read my banks T&C’s on our Natwest Mortgage.

However, we still can’t locate, and the bank are refusing to tell us where that particular term is on our Contract we signed, that states they ” >May< recalculate mortgage repayments should you make an over payment payment of £1000 or more in any month".

We're waiting to see if the Financial Services Ombudsman can get ANY response/closure to this dispute to the bank deciding to change our repayments, this time!

Personally, based on their total lack of responsiveness in addressing this Contractural issue I think we will have to take them to a civil court, to force them to answer a very simple question, pathetic isn't it.

Guest
Stephen Rosling says:
21 November 2012

Some of these T’s and C’s are impossible to decipher – it’s almost laughable. The root cause, however, is that FS have taken “transparency” to mean that we must tell you everything – all 30000 words if needs be. And as you have shown, with a little common sense and a customer perspective, these clauses can be significantly reduced in word count and complexity. What your analysis also highlights is, perhaps, the even greater problem with more complex financial products!

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Guest

British Bankers’ Association here. Thank you for kicking off an interesting discussion.

Terms and conditions set out customers’ rights as well as their responsibilities – they are there principally for the benefit of customers. They should be considered as a reference book that is not necessarily read all at the same time, but that puts all the information customers need about their account in one place. And complementing the terms and conditions are the key facts documents and plain English guides banks produce for customers – and also their open offer to explain all terms and conditions in a branch or over the phone if preferred.

We would be happy to work with government and regulators to identify areas that could be shortened, without restricting customers’ ability to access their rights and responsibilities.

Guest
Nomtha says:
21 November 2012

Interesting. Will you make the test more available to a larger group? It may not be so easy to regulate the responses but it might point out to people how to start reading T&Cs and prove a more general learning point?

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Guest

Our Money team put together a video about this, if you’d like to have a wee watch or retweet it on Twitter:

Have you read your #bank’s T&Cs in full? Only one in 10 people have – @whichmoney went on the streets to find out why: youtu.be/4ictvm-Hbbs

— Which? Conversation (@WhichConvo) November 22, 2012

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Guest

So the British Bankers Association says:
“They should be considered as a reference book that is not necessarily read all at the same time,”
While almost all financial service sites require you to tick a box saying you have read the T&Cs.

A first step would be for T&Cs to be tailored to the actual financial product you have rather than being a single document with a myriad of sections, paragraphs, exceptions covering every type of account offered.

Another option would be for there to be an industry wide standard set of T&Cs with a separate very short list of differences provided by each bank/building society.

Guest
Stephen Rosling says:
23 November 2012

Interesting comment from the BBA. The T@C’s “…..are there principally for the benefit of customers.” This is not how customers see it – as the video showed, the customer viewpoint is that they’re there to protect the “legal backside” of the banks.”

If the banks, (and other FS firms), were truly applying the principles of fair treatment, they would be testing product literature, (including T’s & C’s), with their own customers. They would soon draw the same conclusions as Which?.

Guest
tony browne says:
6 January 2013

What a sad state of affairs, i pointed out the truth about the total con of interest rates and you wiped it. Talk about russia covering things up. YOU do nothing to help your own people.

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Guest

Hello Tony, the only other comment I can find from you was posted on this Conversation earlier on Sunday. Is this the one you mean? https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/vince-cable-business-secretary-banking-commission-debate/

I can’t see any others. If you think a comment has gone missing please contact us: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/ And please stick to our commenting guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines Thanks.

Guest
David Bannister says:
12 April 2016

It is not just banks that compete with War & Peace when writing Ts & Cs eg travel companies, insurance companies, legal firms etc. I conclude that if they put in enough verbiage them we wont read them giving them a major advantage. As a cynic I believe that since their legal people cant write water-tight conditions they replace quality with quantity. And please not small print