A leopard changing its spots


Can banks ever act with decency? Will they ever be governed by the same sense of morality as the rest of us?

Unlikely, you might think, but there are faint signs of hope. The banks have finally noticed that most people see them as deeply unethical organisations.

They have decided to change this perception, and have given Sir Richard Lambert the task of telling them how to do it. His first step is to set up the Banking Standards Review.

He understands the size of the challenge, and admits that it could take years, but is convinced that he will eventually persuade bank workers that they owe a Duty of Care to their customers. I hope that he is right, but I’m pessimistic. This concept is alien to bank employees, from counter staff to senior officers.

Sir Richard has completed the consultation stage,  and is drawing up his action plan, so we will soon know how he intends to bring about this transformation. Make no mistake; if he achieves his goal, he will have overseen a revolution.

The change of attitude needed would not only be radical, but would have to take place in every part of every bank. No action could take place without its effect on customers being fully evaluated. Banks would have to be honest and open in their dealings.

It would not be enough for banks to stop deliberately bankrupting their customers, or treating them only as cash cows, though this would be a welcome start. The concept of a Duty of Care goes much further. Bank employees would have to consider how any act or omission of theirs might impact on customers. They would have to put their customers’ financial well-being before the banks profits. Can you see this happening?

So, if this project is likely to fail, why are the banks funding it? Because perception is everything. If they can give the impression that they are trying to change, we’ll all love them again.

You can see that they are attempting this sleight-of-hand if you look at their advertising. They are moving away from telling you how much money you can make by banking with them. Now the bank is your best friend, your mother, your guru.

The TV adverts are the most nauseating. They all follow the same pattern. There is uplifting music, usually played on a piano, accompanied by a visual journey away from our humdrum lives towards a world of peace and plenty, where the sun shines every day. By the end you could almost sob from emotional overload.

Afterwards comes the sickening return to reality, when you remember that the banks are only interested in you when they’re trying to sell you a product. If you get into any difficulty, you’re not only on your own but a pariah to be driven away from the banks’ golden doors.

I think I preferred it when they were honest about their attitude towards customers.

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