In a week that saw some of the shonkiest products in Australia exposed, perhaps no-one should have been surprised that consumers went on a wallet strike.
The economic news of the week showed consumer spending had its biggest fall since 2009. “It was a shocker”, Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird declared.
But over at Choice, the country’s leading consumer advocates, there were a few additional insights into why consumers have become wary. It’s not just jobs and low wage rises. It’s bad deals and products that are lemons.
The Commonwealth Bank’s Dollarmites accounts were among the first to come under scrutiny.
According to Choice , the program allows banks to pay ‘‘ kickbacks’ ’ to schools to ‘‘ flog their products’’ . CBA pays schools $5 when new accounts are opened or cash is deposited. No surprises, schools love the program. The CBA paid a total of $2.3 million to schools last year.
Choice claims schools banking programs are used to increase sales and market brands to children. Under the Dollarmites Club, which is 90 years old, children receive tokens that can only be redeemed for ‘‘ rewards’ ’ when they make regular deposits.
The Commonwealth Bank wasn’t the only one. Westpac won a shonky for targeting unborn babies!
Says Choice: “Banks targeting children is nothing new, but Westpac’s Bump Savings Account is aiming to get the edge by recruiting customers before they’re born. There’s even a $200 bonus to entice parents to sign up babies born in 2017, but customers will need to wait 16 years before they can cash in.”
Signing your child up to a Bump account gives Westpac plenty of opportunity to promote credit cards and other products.
For example, the account offers a 2.3% maximum interest rate, which is less than many other children’s savings accounts currently on the market.
To achieve the top rate, you’ll need to make a deposit to the account each month, keep the balance higher at the end of the month than it was at the beginning and keep the balance above $0 at all times. Otherwise, the interest drops to 1.5%.
Assuming you take the $200 bonus and deposit a further $200 per month for 16 years at the current rates, your $38,600 will earn $8054 interest and leave a final balance of $46,654 for your child.
But if you forfeit the ‘bonus’ and sign up to an account with a higher 3.5% rate, you’ll earn $12,977 in interest and wind up with a balance nearly $5000 higher at $51,377. With substantial deposits over a lengthy time frame, there are likely to be many more suitable investment options to consider.
Choice was again in action with its “dodgy awards”. Top of the list: an entertainment ticketing organisation.
Choice said it had received hundreds of reports from concertgoers about Viagogo.
Advertising seats to major events such as Adele and ZZ Top through Google’s AdWords network, the ticket reseller engages in illegal drip pricing, fails to respond to complaints and has a customer guarantee “that’s about as reliable as a scalper in a back alley”.
How is it so easy for shonky operators to survive?
Here’s a clue: we just don’t read the small print. And sometimes, any of the print at all!
Apparently, a third of customers with interest only mortgages may not properly understand the type of loan they have taken out, which could put many in ‘‘substantial’’ stress when the time comes to pay off their debt.
UBS analysts warn the potential for repayment difficulties with this type of mortgage is huge.
Typically, an interest-only loan will allow a customer to pay only interest for the first five years. After that, they must start also paying the principal sum, which raises the monthly payments substantially.
However, the UBS analysts believe there is a real risk many consumers do not realise their mortgage payments will rise in this manner.
The bank found only 23.9 per cent of 907 respondents in a survey had an interest-only loan, compared with economy-wide figures that show 35.3 per cent of loans are interest only.
Mr Mott said he initially suspected the survey sample had an error, but now believed a ‘‘ more plausible’ ’ reason was that interest-only customers did not properly understand they had one.