More and more financial institutions are also charging their existing customers penalty interest. Postbank is now also taking this step – customers and consumer advocates are not very enthusiastic.

Admittedly, Postbank is not making a secret of its project, at least not to its customers. “The custody fee is coming” is the heading on a letter from the credit institution, which many savers have recently received. Immediately below: “What will now change for you – and what you can do.”

What changes is briefly told. For existing Postbank customers, a so-called custody fee will be due from September 1, 2021, which means nothing more than: penalty interest for credit balances above an exemption limit of 50,000 euros.

As nonchalantly as the bank informs affected customers, the step is surprising. Because at the end of May, Postbank announced publicly that the allowance on accounts would only be reduced for new customers – from June 21, from 100,000 euros to 50,000 euros.

Postbank has been sending letters since the beginning of June

At the same time, however, Postbank is also reducing the tax exemption for accounts of existing customers, according to a spokesman for Deutsche Bank , to which Postbank belongs, t-online confirmed. “Since June 1, 2021, we have been sending a corresponding letter to customers who have sight deposits of more than 100,000 euros,” said the spokesman.

Deutsche Bank, including Postbank, is Germany’s largest private branch bank with around 19 million customers. Only the savings banks and the Volksbanken have more customers in this country. The deposits of private savers that Postbank manages – and for which they themselves have to pay money in the meantime – are likely to be correspondingly large.

Because: If commercial banks such as Postbank park excess funds at the European Central Bank (ECB), they currently have to pay 0.5 percent interest. More and more financial institutions are passing the costs on and private customers usually charge negative interest of 0.5 percent.

“The low interest rates hit everyone”

In the non-personalized letter from Postbank it is also bluntly stated: “The low interest rates affect everyone – you as savers and us as a bank. Like other banks, we unfortunately feel compelled to react to the European Central Bank’s low interest rate policy.”

And further: “That is why we would like to make an agreement with you on the payment of a custody fee so that we can continue the business relationship.”

Postbank is therefore asking its customers to return an “additional agreement” by a certain date – in this case July 13, 2021. “The custody fee will be calculated from 01.09.2021,” the letter says. “You are important to us. We would like to advise you personally and offer you alternatives with which you can save the custody fee.”

The first page of the Postbank letter.  (Source: private)The first page of the Postbank letter. (Source: private)

Postbank: “First and foremost is the conversation with our customers”

In plain language this means: bank customers either have to accept the penalty interest, switch to another Postbank product, such as a fund – or they are given notice.

The Postbank spokesman tries to downplay the importance of writing. “It is a letter to the customer, with which we would like to make an individual agreement on investment alternatives or custody fees. The first priority is the conversation with our customers,” said the spokesman.

“We don’t see our task as a bank primarily in passing negative interest rates on to our customers. Our task is to show customers ways in which they can still invest their money profitably despite negative interest rates.”

Postbank customers feel they are under pressure

However, not all Postbank customers agree with this. A psychotherapist from Berlin, who has had an account with Postbank since 1975 and received a letter from the financial institution at the beginning of June, does not want to switch to another form of investment.

“In the past, Postbank wanted to sell me investment products. But they have nothing sensible – it’s all about making money. Customers don’t matter,” said the customer, who does not want to read her name publicly.

The customer does not want to open an account with another bank either. “I’ve always been at Postbank. Switching to another bank is out of the question. For me as a self-employed person, it’s simply an insane administrative burden.” And that although the employees would exert a certain pressure in the discussions. “I feel compelled, even blackmailed, by the Postbank.”

Changes affect “a larger number of existing customers”

Another customer who says he has had an account with the Postbank “for decades” also reports to t-online that he feels under pressure. He has not yet approved the agreement.

“However, I assume that Postbank customers who do not agree will cancel the account,” he wrote. The Postbank spokesman did not want to comment on the criticism from customers.

The bank does not disclose how many customers will be affected by the changes. Just this much: “The change in the custody fee affects a larger number of Postbank customers.”

Around 350 banks charge negative interest rates

Postbank is not the first and only bank to charge penalty interest on checking accounts. In the first half of the year, the number of these institutes almost doubled, as the comparison portal Verivox recently found out. Accordingly, 349 banks are currently charging negative interest rates, 171 more than at the end of 2020.

More money houses were added almost every day, explained Verivox. The third largest German bank ING had announced just this weekto demand negative interest from an allowance of 50,000 euros.

The negative interest mainly affects new customers. If a bank wants to demand a custody fee from existing customers, it has to agree this individually with those affected, as in the case of Postbank.

“Banks were creative in creating new fees”

Meanwhile, consumer advocates criticize that “banks and savings banks have been particularly creative in recent years when it comes to creating new fees”. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Vzbv) considers negative interest rates on current and overnight accounts of consumers to be fundamentally inadmissible, regardless of whether they are new or existing customers.

The Vzbv has therefore filed lawsuits with several courts. “We are not concerned with individual institutes, but with a fundamental clarification”, according to the Vzbv. However, it will take some time before a possibly highest judicial decision is made.