Never, in recent years, has France recorded so many bank customers in financial difficulty. According to the annual report of the Banking Inclusion Observatory (OIB), published Thursday, June 17, more than 3.8 million people have been identified as “Fragile” by their banks at the end of 2020, a figure up 12%. Over the past year, the number of “New detections” of these temporary fragile situations, due in particular to repeated incidents on the account, increased by 28%.
If the economic crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic can explain this development, the OIB report highlights the effects of new regulations, which have forced banks to better identify customers in difficulty. For many years, incident fees levied on customers in financial difficulty have in fact constituted a significant portion of banks’ revenues. In the wake of an investigation by the National Union of Family Associations (UNAF) and 60 million consumers, revealing that one in five troubled customers was charged each year by their bank more than 500 euros in fees for payment incidents, the public authorities have seized on the subject.
A banking inclusion and over-indebtedness prevention charter, approved by a decree of September 16, 2020, now requires each institution to provide for a cap on fees, which “Cannot exceed” 25 euros per month for fragile customers, and 20 euros per month and 200 euros per year for beneficiaries of the “specific offer” (bringing together a range of essential, but limited banking services provided at an appropriate price). In its report, the OIB notes that 86% of banks have aligned themselves with the ceiling of 25 euros, only a few having opted for a more favorable rate.
What was the effect of these measures on the fees charged to the most vulnerable? The OIB notes that the average annual amount of their bank charges fell only slightly last year, to 248 euros, against 255 euros in 2019. “This cost hides significant disparities between establishments, the average amounts declared ranging from 140 euros to 469 euros”, says the OIB.
“The beneficiaries of the” specific offer “remain better protected”, continues the report. For the approximately 600,000 customers who benefit from it, “The total cost of operating the bank account was on average 120 euros, against 138 euros in 2019”. But this device is struggling to develop. Last year, the openings of “specific offers” fell by 17% compared to 2019.