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Don't bank on your savings being safe

Don't bank on your savings being safe

Phil Keeffe   Heckler  Brisbane Times   June 20, 2013

Remember the Cyprus banking crisis in March when their cash-strapped government appropriated money from bank savings accounts?

''Thank goodness it can't happen here,'' we smugly told ourselves. But it can, and it has.

Last December, the federal government rushed legislation through Parliament that meant banks had to transfer depositors' money to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission from any accounts that were deemed ''inactive'' for three years, down from seven years previously.

Our own cash-strapped government expected to raise $109 million from these accounts in this financial year.

When I read about a Queensland pensioner who'd had $22,000 taken from his savings I thought I'd better check the account my superannuation fund has had since 2009 with BankWest in Perth.

This account was a Business TeleNet Saver account - an online savings account that earned a small but useful rate of interest while the funds stayed safely tucked away. Or so I thought.

When I logged in to check the balance, the account had disappeared and there was no sign of the $2200 I had deposited.

I rang the bank and was told my account had been inactive for three years and the money had been duly transferred to ASIC. Oh, and it would take up to six weeks to get it back.

I wonder about their definition of ''inactive''. It's an online account, right? So I log into the bank's website and check the balance at least once a year to prepare my fund's tax return. My last login was August 5, 2012. Why hadn't BankWest contacted me before lifting the money? ''We sent a letter to you and got no response.'' When I queried the address it turned out to be one that I'd asked to be changed in November 2010.

The bank also had my email and mobile number but somehow just couldn't manage to contact me.

At least the bank could send me the forms to file for a return of my funds. Fantastic! Three weeks after completing them I'm still waiting.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said a Coalition government would move to overturn the law that has turned banks into robbers. This is one promise he can keep without getting anyone offside.



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