Q&A Dominic Coyle

Can Sharewatch charge me for being inactive?

Tue, Aug 13, 2013, 01:00

I hold a bundle of shares in Irish and British companies. I started many years ago acquiring these shares and utilised Sharewatch, which, through various mergers, leaves me now dealing with fxcm stock trading.

I am a long time OAP and very seldom buy or sell shares. A recent statement reveals that since December 2012, they have been charging my account with £25 sterling per month “inactivity charge”. I was never notified about this. Do you know if this charge is common or unique to fxcm? Do other brokers charge same?

Mr JT, email

So much for the low-cost trading model of which Sharewatch was supposed to be one of the those in the vanguard – to say nothing about responsible investing.

A quick glance at the “trading fees” page of Share watch.com shows that it is now imposing, as you say, a £25 per month charge on inactive accounts . In fact, it’s even worse: the charge applies to all accounts which have carried out fewer than three trades in a given month.

Far from being a low-cost option for the careful individual investor, that indicates that Sharewatch is targeting extremely active traders. While you can understand why, from its point of view – the more trades are executed, the more it makes in commission and fees – such “hyperactivity” runs counter to the general advice to investors that it is better to buy and hold rather than chase losses or extra gains by jumping between stocks.

To be fair to Sharewatch, they don’t hide it, at least not in relation to this page – it is in bold and within asterisk marks to ensure it grabs the attention. And, for those who are interested in day trading or running very active accounts, their lack of annual fees and relatively low (by Irish standards) online dealing charges could be attractive.

But that’s missing the point. The big question is: did they inform you, the customer.

I’m not aware that there is anything in their terms and conditions that obliges customers to familiarise themselves with such arcane charges. The general rule is that charges to be applied to customer accounts must be notified to the customer.

I don’t have the full details of this case but as a long-time customer and a pensioner,who is unlikely be relocating hither and tither, I assume Sharewatch has your current contact details. If you have not heard from them about changes in terms and conditions, including this charge, you should bring it to the attention of the Central Bank, which regulates the sector.

You’ll need to check carefully, however, because in my experience of dealing with online businesses, terms and conditions change regularly, the relevant changes are rarely highlighted and the terms and conditions are themselves exhaustive and often impenetrable. In my view, it should be the clear responsibility of the service supplier to indicate relevant changes – especially when it involves a charge.

As to this charge in general and other brokers, no, it’s not something I have come across before, although no stockbroker likes inactive accounts and many do have ways of trying to get rid of such customers.

Interest on savings the key to medical card means test
In your column on July 2nd, you said that, in reckoning income for medical card eligibility for over-70s, “the first €36,000 of savings for an individual is not taken into consideration – € 72,000 for a couple”.

I take this to mean that you are referring to the annual interest income from amounts of €36,000 (or €72,000) saved?

Mr SC, email

You are correct in that the €36,000/€72,000 figure comes into the picture when assessing the scale of people’s savings and its implication for medical card eligibility. Apart from your direct income from work, pensions, rental and other areas, it calculates the income that you can expect from your savings. Thus in discounting the first €36,000/ €72,000 of savings from the means test for a single person or married couple, it is effectively discounting the annual interest accruing on that level of savings.

This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. Please send your questions to Q&A, c/o Dominic Coyle, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or to dcoyle@irishtimes.com