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Giving EU citizens more choice in financial services: EU Commission consults

The European Commission believes that consumer financial services such as bank accounts, mortgages and insurance are an essential part of daily life. Yet many people find it hard to access these services across borders; and many businesses find it hard to provide them

For the next three months, the European Commission will be consulting on how to create a stronger European market for consumer financial services. The aim is to find a system that works for consumers across the EU, giving them access to the best financial service deals, with more suitable products, a bigger choice and more competitive prices.

The European Commission is today launching a consultation to look at financial services from the perspective of European consumers in order to boost competition, transparency and choice. The consultation looks at the retail market across Europe for products such as insurance, mortgages, loans, payments and bank accounts. It will seek to identify the unjustified barriers that consumers face when they want to use such services across borders, and find answers on how best to remove these barriers.

The Commission’s goal is to make it easier for those companies that so wish to offer financial products at the retail level in other EU Member States, which would give consumers access to a far greater range of products. People should also be able to take those products with them if they move to another EU country to work, study or retire.

Jonathan Hill, European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, said: “Financial products like bank accounts, mortgages and insurance are hugely important in the daily lives of millions of Europeans. But people often miss out on the best deals, or pay over the odds because of the barriers that exist in the European market. In this, as in other areas, the single market can bring benefits by helping consumers enjoy more competition and pick from the best that Europe has to offer. I hope that citizens and businesses will respond to this consultation to share their experiences and suggest how we can best tackle these barriers.”

Some illustrations of barriers or problems people in the EU may encounter include:
You want to open a bank account or buy a savings product but it is not available to residents of your Member State;
you want to move to another Member State to work or retire, but find you cannot keep your existing current account or debit card, or that your health insurance premiums would go up dramatically (i.e. your financial services are not “portable”);
you transfer money into another currency, or use a credit card while on holiday, and face high fees or poor exchange rates;
you find extra or hidden costs such as insurance when renting a car, which you were not aware of when booking;
you want to get your mortgage from a provider in another country, but worry you will not be protected if something went wrong;
you already have a bank account, credit card, loan or insurance policy but it is expensive or awkward for you to “switch” providers, even if you could get a better return or lower price (one Eurobarometer survey showed that 85% of respondents with a personal loan or credit card had not switched or tried to switch providers).

Sometimes there will be valid and objective reasons why services vary, are priced differently or are not available in other Member States —for instance because of different costs or risks. But those barriers can also pose practical difficulties, including for the 13.6 million EU citizens who live in a member state other than their own.

In practice, this means that many Europeans may not be enjoying the widest range of products or they are paying over the odds. It also means financial service providers find it hard to expand, and offer their services to a bigger market – given the extra cost or complexity involved in operating across borders. Just 3% of consumers have purchased a banking product such as a credit card, current account or a mortgage from other EU member state; within the euro area, cross-border loans amount for less than 1% of the total. Not all consumers and businesses want to be active on a cross-border basis. The purpose of the consultation is to make sure that those who do want to purchase cross-border financial services are able to do so, subject to an adequate level of consumer protection and security standards.

The consultation also considers the impact of digital technology on the market. Digital services such as online banking, peer-to-peer lending or price comparison websites present many opportunities for the providers and consumers, but can also pose a regulatory and consumer-protection challenge.

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