Julian Knight: Get those without bank accounts through the doors

High-street names should be obliged to encourage the three million left in the cold
  • @ukmoneyguru

Reading the recommendations of the banking commission I was hit with a keen sense of déjà vu. In particular, the proposal that high street banks should have to sign up to a voluntary code which will see them having to make it easier for the three million or so Britons who are unbanked to access basic bank account services.

Nearly a decade ago the voluntary Banking Code was adapted to contain a very similar injunction on the banking sector over its treatment of the unbanked. Some strides were made, particularly by Lloyds TSB, to get more of the unbanked into the system, but ultimately the profit imperative won out and millions remained on the sidelines, prey to the "cheque-cashing" sharks and payday lenders.

Mystery shops by charities and groups like Which? revealed that bank staff routinely put unnecessary barriers in the way of basic bank account applicants in the name of the ubiquitous and rather pointless money-laundering rules (which in themselves have been deliberately gold plated by banks, I believe, to allow them to turn customers they don't want away).

So what will be different this time around? Nothing, I would suggest, unless the voluntary code actually has tough action to back it up.

Here is my idea. Let's link the access to central funds such as the Bank of England's funding for lending scheme not just to a commitment to lending to the wider economy but to banks taking on the unbanked millions in double-quick time.

Let's set each a target of people they must get through their doors – starting with the part state-owned institutions – and if they fail to reach them the doors of the Bank of England should be closed to them.

Give shares to savers

So it looks like at least one of the state-owned banks is going to be reprivatised (as ugly a word as you'd wish to read) potentially before the next election.

Lloyds is the most likely as it has been quicker to get back on its feet than the once-practically bust Royal Bank of Scotland. This is no small achievement for Lloyds and its staff, who had to take on the dead loss which was the Halifax. I remember its chief, Antonio Horta-Osorio, describing to me (in his Santander days) the takeover of Halifax by Lloyds as being like a snake digesting a poison bull.

But instead of a tell sid-style 1980s flotation I have an idea which, if it could be afforded, would give a real fill-up to Britain's sadly diminished savings culture.

Why not gift the shares to Britain's older savers? It is they who have had to face the brunt of the cost of the financial crisis as their savings rates have been kept artificially low in order to prop up those who overborrowed during the boom.

It was necessary for the Bank of England to cut rates as it did as potentially hundreds of thousands faced losing their homes, but the total cost has been £100bn in lost savings returns, in the main for the elderly.

What would be good about gifting these shares to older savers is that they could earn dividend income and then pass them on to their children on death, thereby genuinely boosting multi-generational share ownership in this country.

Open house non-event

Our neighbours are selling up and being pitched for the de-rigueur estate agency ploy of the moment – the open house event.

Apparently an open house creates a sense of excitement (ie competition) among buyers and inconveniences the vendor (and the estate agent therefore) the least.

But are these open house events all that? You may get lots of people through the door but who is sure that they are right sort of person – have they already sold their property for instance and is this the sort of property they would go for?

There is also a safety issue. Apparently open house events were once used extensively in the United States and have fallen out of fashion as there were many instances of burglaries taking place soon after the event.

In effect it would be used as a means of casing the property for valuable possessions. It is far harder to keep a lid on this sort of activity and vet buyers through an open house strategy than individual viewings.