The European Commission (EC) has launched a consultation on ways of making it easier for customers to switch bank accounts between financial institutions - both at a national level and within the European Union.
The consultation follows the publication of a report compiled by an 'expert group on customer mobility' that identifies obstacles that customers face when switching bank accounts, both domestically and across borders.
The group found that customers face four main obstacles when switching accounts - lack of consistent information and non-transparency of prices, "bundling and tying" practices by banks, large amounts of administration and high closing charges.
The study found that legal and regulatory barriers, as well as legal uncertainties, prevent customers from opening accounts across borders. Commercial decisions by banks and high opening and closing charges were also found to be causing problems.
The report outlines 37 recommendations to address the obstacles identified, including the possible introduction of an EU-wide "account number portability" system which would allow customers to change banks but keep their account number so it is easier to transfer services tied to accounts such as direct debits and standing orders.
In a statement Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers' Assocation (BBA) says although the EU's moves on account switching "have won the backing of UK banks", it was crucial the plans emphasised "mobility not portability".
Knight claims that account number portability across the whole of the EU wouldn't work and could lead to reduced customer choice.
"Every country has its own way of doing things which would make it a nightmare to dovetail systems across all member states," she says. "It also fails to take into account the way people want to bank - for example having one account for the bills and another for saving."
Last year Italian competition regulator Alberto Heimler called for account number portability following the introduction of Sepa in 2008. He said customers will not gain the full benefits of competition in a single euro payments area (Sepa) unless banks make it easier to switch accounts between institutions.
The EC is now opening a public consultation on the group's report. The study and the results of the consultation will contribute to future policy decisions on account switching.
Read the expert group's report here:Download the document now 231.9 kb (PDF File)