By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — As almost 200,000 people are set to get a loyalty bonus of more free shares in the First Active following its conversion from a building society to a bank last year, a windfall bonanza of more than £23 million remains unclaimed.
First Active secretary Robert Bergin said that 21,000 people had still not claimed the 450 free shares they are entitled to.
At last week’s share price of 3.18 euros, the unclaimed windfall is worth £1,127 for each person.
"People are claiming their shares at the rate of about 50-60 a week. I would be very hopeful of getting the figure up a lot higher by the final date of Oct. 6 2001," he said.
Bergin disputed suggestions that people were not coming forward because their accounts contained "hot" money.
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"There are people with mortgages who have not come forward and they would have no reason to try to preserve their anonymity," he said. "You will get people who just don’t claim for a number of reasons, such as still not knowing there are free shares available."
The First Active situation follows a similar experience in Irish Permanent when it went public.
Despite several high-profile media appeals by Irish Permanent, more than 22,500 people never came forward to claim a massive £52 million worth of free shares. The opportunity to claim the windfall lapsed in September 1997 — three years after it went public.
People with accounts containing hidden untaxed "hot money" or black economy savings who claim their windfall shares lose their anonymity. Their names are listed on the share register.
This is thought to have discouraged some people in the past but, under provisions in this year’s Finance Act, the taxman can now investigate accounts in the financial institutions for the first time.
People who haven’t sold their First Active shares will get their loyalty bonus of 23 free shares, worth over £73, early next month on the anniversary of the First Active float. A further 22 free loyalty shares will be handed out next year.