By Lois Jones
A number of foreign exhange offices in the Balearics have been investigated for charging excessive commission when changing Pounds into Euros.
A widespread investigation was sparked after a complaint was made by the Association of Banking Services Users (Ausbanc) against an exchange bureau located in the “Ramblas” area of Barcelona for having demanded a commission of 32% from British tourists who wanted to buy euros with pounds Sterling. This would mean that for the sum of 100 Pounds Sterling they would only have received 106.95 euros when the official exchange rate would have entitled them to 140 euros. A director of Ausbanc in Catalongia, Sergi Martínez, made a statement at a Press conference yesterday about a study that has been conducted by his organization amongst 47 banking service units including savings banks and exchange bureaux in Barcelona (10), Alicante (12) and in the Balearics (25). He added that a similar report is being conducted in Málaga. Martínez hotly emphasised that the commission of 32% was the “most abusive” rate uncovered out of all the banking units that fell within the confines of the investigation. When euros were being bought with pounds Sterling, the normal range of commission demanded fell between 6% and 18.7%. The director from Barcelona was joined on the occasion by Pedro Pérez and Carlos Hernández, representatives from Ausbanc in the Eastern part of Spain and the Balearics, respectively. All denounced the “total absence” of information available to tourists in the savings banks and exchange bureaux chosen for the study. This automatically “supposes a practice that is detrimental to the client”. The study carried out by Ausbanc has concentrated on the exchange of pounds Sterling given that the volume of tourists coming from Great Britain in Spain is very high and in fact totalled some 14.5 million in 2002, according to information from the Ministry of Economy made available to Ausbanc. In the Balearics, the maximum commission exposed was 18.7% which means that 100 pounds Sterling would buy 119 euros when the official exchange rate should ensure 140 euros, indicated Carlos Hernández. He added that on top of offering no information to clients, it is the exchange bureaux and central banks that charge the highest levels of commission. Although Sergi Martínez recognized that the exchange rate and commissions levels can be freely set by the banking office, he believed there was a responsibility on behalf of Spanish authorities “to give some kind of protection to tourists who were often the worse off because of lack of information” and that “the Bank of Spain, the Ministry of Economy or Regional government” should intervene to put a halt to the abuse.

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