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Auditor to urge French banks, insurers to report dormant billions: paper

PARIS (Reuters) - France's national auditor will criticize banks and insurers for failing to report billions of euros in unclaimed life insurance policies and bank accounts left dormant for years after the death of their owners, daily Les Echos reported on Tuesday.

Unclaimed life insurance policies amounted to over 2.7 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in 2011, while dormant bank accounts contained at least 1.2 billion euros in 2012, the paper cited a Cour des Comptes report to be published on Wednesday as saying.

A spokesman for the Cour declined comment.

French banks have no obligation to investigate whether their customers are alive or dead, so many keep charging hefty fees on accounts that have gone dormant for years. But insurers - such as AXA - are bound by law since 2005 to try to notify the beneficiaries of life insurance policies.

However, the auditor criticizes deficiencies in the way insurers enforce such rules and calls for new regulations to force them to turn over any policy which has been dormant for more than a decade to state bank Caisse des Depots.

It also said banks - the biggest in France being BNP Paribas - had failed to investigate obvious cases, pointing out that while France counts only 20,106 centenarians, the number of bank accounts belonging to people more than 100 years old is 674,014.

The number of inactive bank accounts and unclaimed insurance policies was rising because customers relocate more often than previously and open multiple bank accounts, some of which are simply forgotten, it said.

The estimate for dormant bank accounts was "necessarily lower than the reality of the phenomenon", Les Echos quoted the Cour report as saying.

To encourage more reporting of dormant assets, the auditor said banks should include a definition of dormant accounts in their code of conduct and cap the amount of fees that can be charged on inactive accounts.

But it stopped short of recommending banks should follow the same rules as insurance companies, Les Echos wrote.

($1 = 0.7664 euros)

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by David Holmes)

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