On 23 July 2014, Directive 2014/92/EU1 (the “Payment Accounts Directive”) has been adopted with the aim to improve consumer rights of EU citizens in the field of (i) access to payment accounts, (ii) comparability of payment account fees and (iii) payment account switching.
While considering bank accounts as “essential for participating fully in the economic and social life of a modern society”2, The European Commission believed it necessary to adopt measures of a legislative nature as very few Member States followed its Recommendation of 2011 on basic payment accounts by adopting adequate measures. It was furthermore stated that at present, the existing rules of the Payment Services Directive3 aiming to increase transparency of payment accounts are in fact not addressing the issue of fee comparability. Finally, the European Commission ascertained that self-regulatory measures adopted by the banking industry with respect to switching accounts between banks have not been followed consistently4.
Access to payment accounts
Chapter IV of the Payment Accounts Directive provides for a right of access, on a non-discriminatory basis, to a payment account with basic features, thus creating a right for all consumers to access basic payment account services irrespective of their financial situation. In this context, residency should not be used as a barrier to accessing payment services. Moreover, the opening of payment accounts guaranteeing the minimum essential payment services5 should not be refused by credit institutions to consumers with poor credit history or any other type of financial difficulty.
According to article 18 of the Payment Accounts Directive, the services related to a payment account with basic features should be offered free of charge or for a reasonable fee.
It can also be noted that although not all banks will be obliged to offer basic payment account to all consumers, it will be the responsibility of each Member State to guarantee easy access to basic accounts and to prevent distortions of competition.
Comparability of payment account fees
The Directive on Payments Accounts is creating two documents to be provided to the consumer in terms of improving the transparency and comparability of payment account fees: a fee information document (article 4) as well as a statement of fees (article 5). While the fee information document, listing the most commonly offered services and the respective fee, is a pre-contractual document to be handed out to consumers before opening a payment account, the statement of fees, containing the fees and interest paid by the consumer as well as interest earned, will have to be provided to the latter at least annually.
The most innovative measure certainly consists in the obligation for Member States to grant access to consumers, free of charge, to at least one comparison website for payment accounts. Such website may be operated either by a private operator or by a public authority, with the aim to allow consumers to compare, on the basis of a reliable source and at low cost, payment account offers promptly.
Payment account switching
According to Chapter III of the Payment Accounts Directive, consumers shall be offered the possibility to change their account and switch their payments, including permanent payment orders, to a different account without facing serious delays, misdirection of payments to a different account or a lack of information on the switching process.
The Payment Accounts Directive thus provides a mechanism for the switching of recurring standing orders and directs debits, with a reasonable cost policy to be applied by the payment service providers. Such measures will however be limited to national level, meaning that it only covers transfers to a payment account located in the same country.
Implementation and transposition
According to article 18 of the Payment Accounts Directive, which entered into force on 18 September 2014, Member States will have two years to implement the latter into their national law.
Implementation of the Payment Accounts Directive will implicate the designation of a national competent authority empowered to ensure the application and enforcement of the rules contained therein, while being granted with investigation and enforcement powers as well as with adequate resources.
Moreover, Member States shall ensure access to effective and efficient alternative dispute resolution procedures to consumers, such procedures and the entities offering them to be instituted in accordance with ADR Directive6.
In the context of its forthcoming application, it can finally be noted that the Payment Account Directive does not provide for the amendment of any existing texts in the field of payments, including the Payment Service Directive.