Barclays boss attacks "unfair" free banking

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The incoming chairman of Barclays yesterday called on watchdogs to end "unfair" free banking in Britain, and renewed his demand that banks and other financial institutions publish details of all staff earning more than £1m.

Sir David Walker, who is preparing to take over from Marcus Agius at the scandal-ravaged bank, also told MPs sitting on the Parliamentary inquiry into banking that industry standards had "slipped in a very grave way".

He rounded on the way banks' salespeople are paid by commission, saying: "This commission culture has been very damaging. It's very important we see changes in remuneration practices tied to sales or revenue".

Sir David said that while the concept of free banking was "valued" by British consumers, it meant people who keep their accounts in credit are under-charged at the expense of those who go into overdraft.

He blamed this for motivating banks to create "ancillary products" of dubious value to recoup losses from free banking, such as payment protection insurance, the mis-selling of which has cost the industry billions in compensation payments.

"Free banking is unfair," said Sir David. But he added: "It is very difficult to see how the banking system gets out of it. It is improbable that a bank will incur first mover disadvantage [by reintroducing bank charges] so it is hard to address by the private sector."

He said the only way to address the issue would be for regulators to force change on all banks, although this could put them directly in the firing line: "There needs to be some policy initiative," he said.

Sir David repeated the call for new laws or regulations to force banks to publish pay bands containing information on how many people at any one bank earn more than £1m.

Such a move would go down particularly badly at Barclays, whose substantial investment banking operations could see it having to disclose more multimillion-pound packages than any other bank.

But Sir David was unrepentant, and said banks would have to make the argument that "to attract high-quality people you have to pay them".

He added: "One thing I think needs to happen is to execute the recommendation or implement the recommendation that I made that bands of remuneration should be published."

Sir David said it was unfair to heap criticism on modestly paid counter staff whose jobs and bonuses depended on them selling big loans.