Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 5 JUNE 2007
KNIGHT CBE, MR
Q140 John Thurso: Does this come
back to the point that you were making that that person clearly
knows where they were, and presumably was receiving statements,
et cetera, and therefore it was not actually a dormant account
Ms Knight: No, that is entirely
the point. That is an extreme case, it is quite an interesting
case, but the very fact that people do not do a transaction on
the account does not mean they have lost it, it does not mean
they do not know it is there, it means they have decided not to
do a transaction on that account. Clearly, in the run up to this
legislation taking effect, there will be a lot of reunification
type actions taking place. Writing letters to places where you
know people are not does not strike us as the most relevant one,
and the more, if I may say, that we get articles such as that,
whether one believes it or not, the more people will be coming
forward for their money. So, there are lots of different ways
of getting people to take some action about money they have left
behind and they are not sure where they have left it.
Q141 John Thurso: The Government
proposals specifically do not propose that letters should be sent
to people at their last known address. Do you think that is a
lacuna in the proposals? Do you think that should be in there?
Ms Knight: I do not think it is
a lacuna necessarily in the proposals, because for a number of
years with accounts where banks are trying to get in touch with
their customer they will have been writing to the last known addresses
anyway. So, having a mandatory requirement to write to that last
known address which they have already written to and already received
no reply to, and no doubt on more than one occasion, does not
seem to be the most appropriate way forward. Therefore, we do
not think it is an omission in the legislation, we think it is
a commonsense approach to the variety of different ways in which
all our banks will be trying to recontact people who had banked
with them some time ago and from whom they have not heard.
Q142 John Thurso: A variety of schemes
have been set up by the BBA, the BSA and some individual institutions
to trace dormant account holders, and I know that in February
the Halifax announced a fairly comprehensive scheme. What are
the other institutions doing to match what the Halifax has done?
Mr Coles: It is important to bear
in mind, again, another statistic from the National Consumer Council
Research, only 9% of those with inactive accounts say in that
market research that they do not know how to get in touch with
the institution or do not know how to make contact with their
account. So, that means that 91%, broadly speaking, are aware
of the account, know how to make contact with it and are able
to access it. What we are doing is ensuring that we get good press
coverage for our scheme. We have improved our scheme so that you
can fill in our lost accounts claim form directly on the website
now, you do not need to print it out and post it off any more;
we have electronified the arrangements for sending it off to societies,
there is no paper involved at our end any more; so it is done
much more efficiently than used to be the case. Individual building
societies are upping their effort, despite the example I gave
you, to use tracing agents in the case of large accounts and to
publicise the existence of lost amounts from small accounts so
that we can reunify as many people as possible with their money.
Q143 John Thurso: I was interested
in that case you gave because it has been stated that the banks
and the institutions are a bit reactive in their tracing process,
whereas that seems to me to be fairly proactive?
Mr Coles: Building societies are
both. If you have got large accounts, then you want to be proactive,
but you cannot spend huge amounts of money on reuniting someone
with a five pound account that they last transacted on in 1983.
Q144 John Thurso: Is there anything
proactive that can be done for those small accounts?
Ms Knight: Yes, I think there
is, and once we know the legislation is going through, that is
the point at which there will be very considerable and well publicised
effort put into getting individuals aware of the issue and trying
to get in touch with them. Also, of course, one of the important
things about the publicity is that it will bring people forward.
I brought with me some numbers of what has happened in our own
area over the last few years, because since we started the service
we have dealt with 40,000 claims we have fielded twice that number
of telephone inquiries, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The website, which has got general guidance, took 149,000 serious
visits last year and we are running at a much higher rate this
year. So, what that is saying is that people are starting to look
actively at the money they have lost. If you go on to Google and
put in "dormant accounts", right at the top of the first
page comes the BBA's free tracing service. I think an important
point, a point that Adrian has also made, is that actually we
have been offering this service free, and when one matches that
up with the sorts of average amounts that we know of, or are expecting.
in these accounts, we do think that it is important that there
is this free service available from the two associations. It is
easy to get in touch with us in all sorts of different ways, and
certainly, once the greater amount of publicity comes out following
the passage of the legislation, we are expecting many more people
getting in touch and a much bigger ability to try and get people
back together with their money.
Q145 Chairman: Do you have a percentage
figure for reunification with accounts based on your website?
Ms Knight: Yes. We have handled
40,000 claims. So that is where individuals have got information
one way or another, either directly from the website or they have
filled in the form, and our people inside the BBA have then found
the account and put the individual in touch with the relevant
Q146 Chairman: Of those 40,000 how
many have been reunited with their accounts?
Ms Knight: Those are the 40,000.
That is what I am saying. That is 40,000.
Q147 Chairman: The 40,000 is what?
Ms Knight: It is 40,000 claims
which we have ourselves personally handled. There is a range of
other information provided. When an individual gets in touch,
if they know their financial institution, we put them in touch,
we hand out leaflets, all those sorts of things. We do not know
the success rate of that because that is information provision,
but this is where people have come to us and they have said, "We
have an account but we do not know which financial institution."
We have found the financial institution and we have put the two
Q148 Chairman: On John's point about
tracing customers, we have had evidence from the Commission on
Unclaimed Assets who quote the Managing Director of Experian's
unclaimed assets register, and he states that, drawing on data
from a vast resource of active records managed, Experian can find
someone's new address from a previous address with a 60-70% success
rate. In reconciling this, will you be considering using someone
Mr Cornish: I speak for us as
an institution. Preciselythat is exactly the sort of sourceand
there are other providers of similar searches that we would use.
I think we should also say, they clearly charge for that service,
so there will still be a cost benefit that applies.
Q149 Chairman: Is anyone using it
at the moment, any company?
Mr Coles: I do not know if any
building society is, I am afraid.
Q150 Chairman: You are not using
Mr Cornish: We do actually have
access to Experian databases in-house and we are using some of
the data for our in-house
Q151 Chairman: But you are not using
it directly to get to people's unclaimed assets?
Mr Cornish: Not at this stage,
but we will be.
Q152 Mr Mudie: Angela, about this
reunification. You say it has been going for six years. Is this
the result: 40,000 people reunited with their accounts? Is that
what you have been doing?
Ms Knight: That we know of, yes,
that we have done ourselves. But, equally so, there has been a
far wider provision of information to individuals as to how to
go about reclaiming their money when they know which institution
it was with. For example, you have got an individual who started
life in Leeds, had a bank account in Leeds, then moved and ended
up in London, perhaps in WestminsterI wonder why I chose
Leeds and Westminster.
Q153 Mr Mudie: When you need the
brass you come back to Leeds!
Ms Knight: They need the brass.
The electorate spoke. Where do they go? You would know where to
go, but individuals do not necessarily. They do not know, because
they always went into one branch in Leeds, whether they can go
into another bank here, or whatever. So, they can get the information
from ourselves and, as I say, thousands and thousands of people
are coming on to our website or are getting in touch with us or
are picking up these leaflets which tell them how to go about
it. So there is that very large range of individuals for whom
the information will no doubt have brought them back together
with their money where we have provided the information, but where
we have done the searching for them, that is the 40,000.
Q154 Mr Mudie: Is that the number
of hits or the number of successful
Ms Knight: That is the claims
that we have handled, not hits. The hits is 140,000 last year,
90,000 in the first four months of this year. The hit rate is
Q155 Mr Mudie: You have given us
two years. You said it is running for six years. I do not want
you to give them to us, but have you got figures for six years?
Ms Knight: Yes, we can provide
you with the six-year figures, as I am sure the Building Societies
Q156 Mr Mudie: One of the figures
you gave in that piece of evidence was that there are only 42
new members participating?
Ms Knight: Yes.
Q157 Mr Mudie: Our records say you
have got 253 members?
Ms Knight: Because wholesale banks
do not offer current accounts.
Q158 Mr Mudie: So of the actual relevant
institutions, how many are participating?
Ms Knight: I was going to say,
is it the lot, or is it not? It is 95%. There may well be one
or two out there with current accounts that are not yet participating,
but 42 represents the huge majority of current accounts.
Q159 Mr Mudie: So there are only
50 institutions involved approximately? That is a straightforward
question. If Angela says 42 represents 95%, you are the banker,
I am just a layman, but it will be about 50 institutions. Is that
all we are talking about?
Mr Chisnall: That is all we are
talking about in terms of banks.
Ms Knight: Of course, of those,
only a handful of the banks do you need, if you like, to cover
the vast majority of the banking that individuals do.