Savings accounts appear to have dropped in their public appeal along with some of the lowest interest rates. Details of the new Investment Savings Accounts guidelines seem to have thrown the public, and the high street branches of banks and building societies, into complete confusion. Plain English Campaign’s recent survey on the streets of Manchester revealed a number of people considering that lottery tickets, online poker games, eBay and even selling their antique china, to produce better returns from their investments.
One of the regular saver we interviewed said, “These savings accounts have become just as much of a gamble as a bet on the horses!”
But apart from the falling rates, the campaign’s survey also highlighted people’s fears for the savings accounts’ small print that mask changing terms and conditions. Disappointing returns can result from legal rate changes that alter the originally quoted figures. Mentions in the press are often the only way the public get to know of these changes. It can only add to the growing mistrust of banking operations. And the power of regulatory bodies appears to be limited and vague on the subject of clarity. The result is another area of self-regulation in the finance industry.
Chrissie Maher OBE and founder of Plain English Campaign says, “It’s bad enough we have no control over what happens once our hard-earned savings are tucked away in these accounts, but to find you missed the critical information that’s lost in the small print, questions the honesty of these practices.”
Neither the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) nor the Committee of Advertising Practices (CAP) currently have a specific objection to small print, despite its connections with numerous public complaints over the years – ‘as long as it can be read with normal eyesight, without having to use glasses’ – is as much guidance as the campaign received from their helpline. There are plans for a full review of the ASA codes in autumn 2009 and Plain English Campaign will be pressing for some more specific guidance for small print - like make it bigger.