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Why a German court decision means you could be entitled to compensation from your bank

Germany’s federal high court has ruled that the Postbank is not allowed to raise fees without the explicit consent of a customer. The ruling is likely to have consequences for almost all German banks. Here’s how you can benefit from it.

Why a German court decision means you could be entitled to compensation from your bank
Postbank. credit: dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

The federal High Court (BGH) announced on Tuesday that it was not permissible for Postbank to change its terms and conditions based on a clause which stated that the customer’s consent would be assumed unless they expressly rejected the new terms.

The BGH ruled that “clauses in a bank’s general terms and conditions are invalid that assume the customer’s consent to changes in the general terms and conditions.”

The national consumer rights organization (VZBZ) had taken the bank to court because of the clause.

Postbank is far from the only bank to have such a clause, according to Der Spiegel. Most German banks have either exactly the same clause or one that has the same effect.

The clauses have been used by banks to increase account fees without expressly gaining the consent of the customer.

The ruling, coming from the country’s highest court, will have a wider impact than simply on this specific case.

According to the website finanztip.de customers can now reclaim all bank fees that have been introduced without the express consent of the customer since the start of 2018.

In other words, if you opened a bank account without having to pay fees for it and the bank subsequently started charging fees, you are likely to be entitled to compensation. The only circumstances under which you are not entitled to such compensation are when you signed a document giving your express consent to the new fees.

Finanztip has created a model letter (in German) that you can use to claim the wrongly charged expenses from your bank. They also say that you are entitled to charge interest on the fees.

According to Der Spiegel, two things are likely to happen when you request repayment from the bank.

Either the bank will say that it was surprised by the decision but will immediately consent to the repayment. It will then inform you of new fees to be paid on your account and ask you to sign a consent form, stating that your account will be cancelled if you do not do so.

You can either sign the form or look for a cheaper account elsewhere.

It is also possible that the bank will claim that the ruling does not cover the specific fees that were charged on your bank account.

In this case you can contact the bank ombudsman and request that they pursue the case for you. There are no costs involved in recruiting the services of the ombudsman.

SEE ALSO: How post-Brexit bank changes could affect British people in Germany

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BANKING

German online bank N26 shutters US service

German online bank N26 said Thursday it was closing its operation in the United States next year, as regulators in Europe place the "fintech" start-up under increased scrutiny.

The N26 logo on a bank card.
The N26 logo on a bank card. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

N26’s 500,000 customers in the US would be able to use their services until January 11th, 2022, the bank said in a statement, after which it would cease to operate in a market it first entered in 2019.

Instead the Berlin-based operation would “sharpen its focus on its European business”, where it already operates in 24 countries and is exploring expansion into more eastern European markets.

N26 said it would also look to launch new “investment products in the coming year” to sit along side its current account service.

Founded in 2013, N26 offers free, online-only banking services to around seven million clients and is one of Germany’s most high-profile financial technology or “fintech” firms.

In October, the bank raised $900 million from private investors, and announced a plan to hire a further 1,000 employees to reinforce its product development, technology and cybersecurity teams.

READ ALSO: German online bank N26 to create 1,000 jobs

At home, N26 has been in the crosshairs of the German banking watchdog BaFin since 2018 after a local news media investigation found that it was possible to open account with forged IDs.

Earlier in the month, the regulator said it was upping its oversight operations at N26, appointing a special representative to monitor the bank’s progress towards solving issues in “risk management with regard to IT and outsourcing” identified by BaFin.

The regulator also limited the number of new customers N26 could take on to 50,000 a month until the shortcomings were addressed.

N26 was already being monitored by BaFin over failures in the start-up’s anti-money laundering system.

BaFin issued N26 with a 4.25-million-euro ($4.8-million) penalty earlier this year in connection with around 50 “suspicious transactions” the bank failed to report promptly enough.

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