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  • Watch the charges!
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      29.01.2003 03:02
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      I have been with the Woolwich in some shape or form for more than 6 years now. and have been satisfied with what has been delivered. Although most of my contact with them was to open/close and account or transfer money. Having had mainly savings accounts with them before and it being two weeks before the last tax year, I decided to put my annual tax allowance into a mini cash isa. I signed everything and assumed everything was fine but realised 3 months later that the money had not been taken from my savings account to put into the isa. I then had the pleasure of listening to the automated phone service; everytime I got through to somebody "I'm afraid you are through to the wrong department." I offered that I was perhaps not up to speed on touch-tone systems and asked if they could put me through to "the right deptment." In total I spoke to more than six people over three phone calls two of which were simply cut off (quite irritating after more than 10 min waiting in the queue). Finally I had got somewhere and the polite gentleman on the other end agreed to 'look into it' which was very generous. One week later, and I recieved a phone call saying the money has been transferred and the associated lost interested credited. There was a slight apologetic tone for which I was grateful but they had merely done what should have been undertaken three months earlier! No word of the fact that I had now lost my tax allowance for this tax year......something I am mustering the energy to phone them about! They perhaps are not the worst company in the world but this is my experience. Thanks for reading/rating

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        26.10.2002 01:57
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        • "Watch the charges!"

        The Open Plan Current Account is a strange beast of a bank account. It was brought in about 3 years ago now, and I've had mine since November 2000. Please note that this opinion is concerned with the current account itself, not the Open Plan mortgage. Prior to that I had a standard current account, which I had no problems with. But that account was held jointly with my ex, and having to remortgage and get my own cheque account they would only offer me an open plan current account. I operated the account in association with a Woolwich mortgage for over a year, before transferring my mortgage elsewhere. I have noticed no differences in how the account operates, you'll be pleased to hear. Now it's pretty much a typical current account, and like all accounts you have to make sure it will work for you. I operate most of my banking through the Internet and telebanking, for reasons I'll explain more in depth as we go. So what facilities can this open plan account offer? ~ Open Plan Money Management ~ All the following facilities can be provided, as long as you have either your salary or a minimum of £250 (presumably the higher of the two), paid into your open plan current account on a monthly basis. ~ Access to your money ~ The Woolwich really are trying to cut back on their counter services. Many main branches now have only 2 or 3 counter staff, and that's assuming they haven't closed their branches. They've tried to make up for this by abolishing the controversial fee to withdraw money from the Link network of machines (32,000 countrywide). You can also withdraw money free from branches of Barclays. As I said I do most banking over the Internet, but the nature of my banking results in lots of movements of money between accounts. However, the open plan account makes money easier to track than if it was being transferred bank to bank, and it moves instantly (or overnight) too.
        You can get a standard cheque book, and £100 cheque guarantee card (subject to their small print). This also works as a debit card so you can use it instead of a cheque, and even my local Nisa supermarket will offer me cashback! There is also telebanking, 24/7, 365 days a year, access through WAP, Digital TV, and many branches have installed Internet terminals that you can use if you don't have access at home. All in all, it's quite easy to get at your cash, unlike some of the banks I use. ~ Bills, standing orders and direct debits ~ You can pay these from your account. Direct debits work the same as any other bank. I was confused at first which address to put as your bank, so I spoke to Customer Services who told me they were dealt with by Jackson House in Colchester. But I'm sure I've sent some via branches in the past and had no problems. Bills are another kettle of fish. The best way to do these is setting up the bill payment facility either through Internet banking or the ATM. They'll let you pay bills over the counter but if you are paying through a Giro credit (eg Freemans, credit cards) be prepared to pay £2.00 per transaction. If you do use bill payments in association with the sweeping facility, don't go into a panic like I did when it shows you overdrawn badly the day the payments do out. This is because the sweeping won't always leave enough money in your current account to cover bill payments in the same way it deals with direct debits. You should not be charged any overdraft charges if this happens! (See the section on Sweeping for further details of how this works.) ~ Other counter transactions ~ You are allowed up to 10 counter transactions in any one calendar month. Be careful, they count every item as a separate transaction. If you deposit say 3 cheques, and £80 in cash, that counts as 4 items. If you make a withdrawal over the counter, that's another
        one. It could quite easily add up. You can make more transactions, but then they charge you £1 for each transaction. Boy was I annoyed with this one, until some very helpful staff pointed out the following ways to circumvent the system? Use the quick deposit machine for cheques. They go into your account the same day, but count as a ?postal deposit' and don't incur any charges. I am not aware of any maximums imposed on postal deposits. If you have a large number to deposit, take the envelopes home and fill out the details in the comfort of your own home. Then just drop them in the machine as you pass. The downside ? you can't deposit cash, and you don't get a receipt. You also need to be very clear on including your account details as it is all hand written, and it doesn't go through the ATM. Use the ATM for cheque deposits. This takes a bit longer, and can be a pain for a large number of cheques. On the other hand, you do get a receipt if it's a big or important cheque. You can use the counter to make more deposits, as long as you don't put the money in your actual current account. Set up a savings pot (see below) and put the money in there. The disadvantage to this is that you do spend time transferring money between your savings pots all the time! But very handy if for example you want to sell stuff on ebay and keep it separate from your main account? ~ More about Savings pots ~ You can have up to 12 ?savings pots? on your account, which operate as separate little accounts linked directly to your current account. And you can name them pretty much what you want. You can transfer money into these and between accounts at the touch of a button. I'll be honest and say it took me ages to get my head around these, but once you think of them as separate accounts linked up it's a lot easier. I can now manage ebay without the hassle of separate banks, or being charged for a business
        account. It also helps with earning a little more interest too. Instead of having lots of small accounts earning the lowest rate of interest, you should be given the combined rate of interest for all your pots. Currently they are offering up to 3% gross on your savings pots for up to £999. It's not really a way to make the most of large savings, though, I really think of it as having a number of current accounts that I can switch money between really quickly. Although for a current account that's not entirely Internet-based, 3% interest ain't that bad? Some things to watch out for: The counter services will charge you £1.00 for any withdrawal from a savings pot, so do that the other way around ? transfer the money to the current account and withdraw from there either through the ATM, a cheque or one of your free 10 transactions. Also, watching your account carefully if you use the Quick Deposit facility to put money in your account. There is a section that says ?If an Open Plan Savings Reserve Pot, please write Pot account number or Pot name:'. Twice now I have requested a deposit for a savings pot and they have put it in the main current account, but I haven't been bothered to follow it up. If you do use the facility, check up a few days later, but do complain if it's not been done right! ~ ?Sweeping' up the dough ~ OK, onto the meaty stuff now, why this account is so different from my trusty Abbey National one. Sweeping is earning a higher rate of interest on money for the hours you're not using it, specifically overnight. Imagine this simple example. I have £1000 in my account (I wish!). Now, leaving it in my Woolwich current account will pay me 0.25% a year gross, so I'll earn £2.50. But if I could put it in an account earning 3.25% I'd get £32.50. OK, so not enough to give up work, but I'm making my money work a bit better for me. Now it doesn'
        ;t work like that of course, because I have £1000 today, but over the course of the next month that dwindles away as I pay my bills. But what if I could have the £1000 in another account earning 3.25%, and only put the money in my actual current account (0.25%) the day a bill goes out? That's how the sweeping facility works, but the other way round. It transfers all the money you don't need the next day into your 3.25% (for balances of £1000-£9999) ?savings reserve?, so you earn money while you sleep. And over the course of a year, it will add up. It lets you choose your average balance to keep in the main current account (mine is set at £250), although I seem to recall you don't have to have the sweeping facility enabled. The major downside is tracking money through it. Yes, you do earn some interest, but it's hard to track deposits and outgoings, when all you see on your balance sheet is current account balance of £250 and savings reserve of £700 and something. What's cleared? What's gone out? I got the knack of it eventually, but it can be quite difficult to gauge exactly how much money you have at any one time, unlike a traditional current account. One way I found of handling this is to leave the current account to its own devices and having everything set up by direct debit. Then if you are say running an ebay business, or anything else involving lots of deposits, try and use your savings pots instead. They have one balance sheet and are quite easy to follow. I didn't know until recently about being able to deposit straight into pots, but life has been far easier since. ~ Anything else that I might be interested in? ~ Well, they offer an interest free overdraft of £100, but you can refuse that if you don't want it. And they can offer you a Barclaycard too, but I had enough credit cards already by then! All in all, although it took a while for me to get used to it, I&#
        39;m actually rather pleased with my Open Plan account. It's the most flexible account I have right now, and their customer services are quite helpful too if you get stuck. This is by no means indicative of all the Woolwich products. I don't think I would recommend this to someone who is not comfortable with online banking, as I find myself having to keep a close eye on the accounts. And the restrictions on what you can do at the counter are a real pain if you like to bank in person, you could find yourself being lumbered with some quite hefty charges. For further information (pay a lot of attention to the Charges page!) go to their website at www.woolwich.co.uk, call in at a branch, or call 0845 070 5090. Disclaimer: Information correct at time of going to press. You should always check the terms and conditions of any bank account, and satisfy yourself of the suitability of a product and it's interest rates and charges for you before applying. This is an opinion of how I have found the Open Plan Current Account (without the Open Plan mortgage). It has worked for me, and I hope it works for you! And I'm not entirely convinced I've found the right category for this - if anyone has any better ideas, please let me know! :o)

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