A large savings bank causes a stir because it has terminated old and particularly high-interest bonus contracts. It is not the first financial institution to invoke the low interest rate – and it will not be the last either.

Trademark of the savings banks

Sparkassen President Helmut Schleweis warned last week that the zero and negative interest rates of the European Central Bank would be clearly noticeable “for everyone in this country” if the loose monetary policy continues or is tightened. Some savings bank customers have already felt what is meant by this.

Sparkasse Nürnberg has canceled 21,000 long-term savings contracts that guarantee customers particularly high premiums. “We cannot pay interest that is not in line with the market,” said a spokeswoman for the Sparkasse, explaining the measure to the FAZ. 16,000 customers are affected, some of whom had more than one premium savings contract.

The “Bild” reported on Monday about a saver who last received EUR 2500 in interest and wants to sue against the termination of his contract. Far from the market in such contracts are the high premiums of up to 50 percent of the savings paid in one year from the Sparkasse’s point of view, because the interest rate was significantly higher at the time when the contracts were signed that date back to the early 1990s.

If the savings bank lends the savings deposits on as a loan, it earns less, based on the current interest rate, than it has to pay the savers. From a business point of view, it is understandable that the company is looking for a way out of the old contracts.

Sparkasse Nürnberg is not the first bank that tries to save itself from the high burdens of old savings contracts by giving notice. A similar debate was already going on with building societies, which wanted to get rid of high-interest contracts with the means of termination.

However, the Federal Court of Justice had set a narrow framework for these terminations with a ruling from February 2017. The file number is XI ZR 185/16. The judges focused on the maturity of the home loan and savings contract. This means: If the customer does not call up his saved and further interest-bearing credit for ten years in order to buy or build a property with the money, the building society may terminate the contract. This is understandable, after all, the purpose of home savings is to save money for a home and not to generate returns above the market rate. In contrast, notices of termination before they are ready for allocation usually do not hold up in court.

The Nürnberger Sparkasse also relies on a guideline issued by the highest court in its dismissals. On May 14, 2019, the Federal Court of Justice decided in the case of Sparkasse Stendal that savings contracts can be terminated if the saver has received the promised maximum premiums. In this case, annual increasing premiums were agreed up to the end of the 15th year; there was no fixed term.

In the opinion of Niels Nauhauser from the consumer association Baden-Württemberg, however, the judgment does not mean that dismissals are generally permissible. The savings bank must adhere to the term agreed in a contract, even if the agreed premium has already been reached.

As a spokeswoman for Sparkasse Nürnberg told the FAZ, after July 2007 the bank switched to only concluding savings contracts with fixed terms of 25 years. However, only contracts without a fixed term are affected by the current terminations. In the case of the terminated contracts, the Sparkasse referred to its general terms and conditions, which provided for an ordinary right of termination with a notice period of three months.

According to the spokeswoman, the bank cannot convey to the total of 390,000 private customers of Nürnberger Sparkasse that a small number of them will benefit from exceptionally high interest rates. The Sparkasse usually spoke to the customers affected by terminations beforehand, also to recommend alternative investments.