It’s been four years since images of people queuing up outside branches of Northern Rock hit the news. And even now, there seems to be little improvement in the public’s confidence in banks, as our event proved.
Last night around 80 people met at the King’s Trust in London to debate the state of our banking sector. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls MP was on hand to take questions and he really had his work cut out.
It didn’t take too long before trends emerged, with the words ‘greedy’, ‘disillusioned’ and ‘selfish’ being bandied about in relation to the banks. But are the banks really that bad – surely after two years we’ve seen some improvements? Apparently not.
Bail out or cop out?
One attendee hit the nail on the head; she felt that the problem was banks are happy to hammer anyone who goes overdrawn. Yet when they get into fiscal difficulties they know that the taxpayer, their customer, will bail them out.
Another slammed the banks for imposing ridiculously high charges – of £100 – just because she had gone £2 in the red.
The mood in the conference centre was pretty dark at this stage, with a real sense that people were genuinely upset with the way they have been treated by the ‘fat cat’ bankers.
Ed Balls responded to these comments by acknowledging that the banks have been let off the hook, and that they ‘should never be allowed to play that gambling game again.’ He added that no one wants to be carrying the can for the banks and the sooner they are able to take control of their business without taxpayer support the better.
This went down really well, but the point remains – these are huge, powerful institutions that are able to impose their unfair rules (or charges) as and when they like, while the rest of us have to strive away and pay the cost of minor indiscretions.
Let’s face it, going £2 overdrawn and paying a £100 fine is excessive, especially when you’ve sought assurances that this can’t happen. And the insult is compounded when you think that the bank chiefs who got us into this mess have chauffeur-driven limousines to carry them and their fat bonuses back home, leaving a trail of chaos behind them.
Treating customers fairly
One of the central mandates that banks are obliged to abide by is ‘treating customers fairly’, which was a point our chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith returned to on more than one occasion, and was acknowledged by Ed Balls. It sounds so sensible, so obvious that you have to wonder why it’s not acted upon. But then again, that’s the banking system for you.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that the banks have sat back, that they have been riding their luck and have little regard for their customers. I don’t feel my bank has my best interests at heart, do you?