Wrong interest calculations BaFin is taking action
Status: 21.06.2021 5:08 p.m.
Premium savings contracts have long promised savers big money. However, in the low interest rate phase, many banks corrected the promised profit commitments downwards. BaFin is now intervening – in the interests of customers.
From Ursula Mayer, Mr
The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority BaFin obliges banks and savings banks to inform holders of premium savings contracts with a variable interest rate about ineffective interest rate adjustment clauses. To this end, the authority has published a general order – which is considered a sharp sword in the financial sector. The financial institutions must also explain to savers whether they have received too little interest as a result of the ineffective clauses. In this case, either back payments beckon or the banks can offer customers modified contracts with an effective interest rate adjustment clause. The changes apply retrospectively and also compensate for insufficiently paid interest in the past. According to BaFin, at least 247 banks and savings banks are affected. The total amount is open.
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In the period between 1990 and 2010 in particular, the financial institutions offered a large number of premium savings contracts. These long-term contracts contain clauses that allow financial institutions to unilaterally change the guaranteed interest rate. They often did that in the low interest rate phase and cut savings rates, in some cases massively – at the expense of their customers. The Federal Court of Justice has meanwhile classified the clauses as ineffective.
BaFin Executive Director Thorsten Pötzsch refers to this in the general decree. He speaks of a “grievance” for consumers, which BaFin wants to remedy in terms of collective consumer protection. “We ensure that affected customers are comprehensively informed and legally treated,” says Pötzsch. Because for more than a year the supervisors have been trying to find a solution with the financial institutions in the interests of the customers, even at a round table – so far without success. The general decree shows that BaFin’s patience has come to an end.
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Hundreds of thousands of customers affected
“We are assuming that banks and, above all, savings banks have concluded hundreds of thousands of premium savings contracts nationwide,” says financial expert Andrea Heyer from the consumer center in Saxony. She and her team have specialized in recalculating such contracts. More than 7700 customers from all over Germany have already contacted us.
As the consumer advocates have calculated together with experts, the financial institutions have calculated the interest rates too low for years in almost all cases. As a rule, consumers were unable to understand how they set the variable interest rate. Often the financial houses have lowered interest rates too much, in too large interest rate steps downwards. “Depending on the case, those affected are entitled to additional payments of a few hundred to over 40,000 euros in individual cases,” says Heyer. In this respect, she welcomes the fact that BaFin is now intervening – that is an important signal.
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Suddenly it was 15,000 euros less
Karina Rother from Frankfurt, for example, signed such a premium savings contract at Frankfurter Sparkasse in the 1990s and wanted to do something for her retirement with it. “The Sparkasse promised me that with a term of 25 years it would really be worth it for me,” says Rother. She promised the customer steadily rising interest rates and ever higher cash rewards.
Rother assumed that she would get around 77,000 euros in the end – as it was calculated in an advertising flyer. Suddenly it should be around 15,000 euros less. In the end, she agreed with the Sparkasse on an extra payment of around 4,000 euros – but, says Rother: “It annoys me that a public institute in particular causes such trouble, even though it is in the interests of the company ‘Joe Bloggs’ should have in view. “When asked, the Sparkasse did not want to comment on the case because of banking secrecy.
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Julian Merzbacher, consumer protection expert of the citizens’ movement Finanzwende, also sees the savings banks in particular as having an obligation to finally act and to approach customers on their own initiative. “It is a cheek that the public welfare-oriented institutes have so far mainly relied on the time factor and statutes of limitations when it comes to saving premiums”.
The general decree of BaFin also explicitly refers to contracts that have already been terminated. But the extent to which claims from customers are already statute-barred – or maybe not – is not a matter for BaFin, it says there, but the courts would have to clarify in case of doubt.
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Big incomprehension among the banks
However, the credit institutions now have four weeks to appeal against the general ruling. This is currently being checked, according to the Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft, the umbrella association for the banking industry. “It is astonishing that the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority is pre-empting the courts,” said a written statement.
Because there is still another judgment pending at the Federal Court of Justice, according to which specific criteria banks have to adjust interest rates in long-term savings contracts. When this decision will be announced is not yet known – consumer advocates are expecting the verdict in the fall. And of course the German banking industry wants to take this into account, according to its own statements.
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Don’t just accept comparison offers
But just waiting until then is not an option, according to BaFin. After all, it is uncertain when a decision by the Federal Court of Justice can be expected, according to the general ruling. As a result, the situation is unnecessarily prolonged for the financial supervisors, and consumers should now be informed urgently.
With a view to the general ruling, consumers do not have to do anything at first. However, you should pay attention to whether you will soon receive mail from your house bank regarding premium savings contracts or not. If comparative offers are made, consumer advocate Heyer recommends having them checked so that no saver is taken advantage of
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