July 17, 2013 / 8:05 PM / 4 years ago

French banks, insurers told to give up unclaimed billions

* State auditor urges action to protect savers, heirs

* Billions seen in dormant accounts, life insurance polices

PARIS, July 17 (Reuters) - Unclaimed life insurance policies and dormant bank accounts in France should be handed over to a state-backed body in order to protect savers and their heirs, the public auditor said on Wednesday.

At least 2.76 billion euros ($3.61 billion) in life insurance policies were estimated to be unclaimed as of 2011 while dormant bank accounts were thought to hold 1.2 billion euros, the Cour des Comptes (public auditor) said.

In a report to the lower house of parliament, it said the sums could be much higher and were likely to be rising, though insufficient information about them was available.

French banks are not required to investigate whether account holders are alive or dead, so many keep charging fees on accounts until the funds become state property after 30 years, as is required under French law.

Life insurers - such as AXA - are bound by law since 2007 to try to notify the beneficiaries of life insurance policies, though the auditor found many often devoted few resources to it.

“The current situation for dormant bank assets and unclaimed life insurance contracts creates a real challenge for protecting savers,” Cour des Comptes president Didier Migaud told journalists.

“The customer and their heirs who haven’t presented themselves to the financial institution after a long time are not sure to be able recover money deposited there,” he added.

The auditor recommended that rules be changed so that dormant accounts and unclaimed policies could be transferred to the Caisse des Depots, a state bank.

It also said fees on inactive bank accounts should be capped and said a central register of bank accounts, currently reserved for tax purposes, should be consulted after a person dies.

Some of the measures are likely to be taken up in a bill currently being prepared by Socialist lawmaker Christian Eckert, a parliamentary source told Reuters.

$1 = 0.7637 euros Reporting by Matthias Blamont; writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Michael Roddy

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