Simon Read: Could it be that banks are ready to earn the trust of customers instead of bleeding us dry?
Simon Read is Personal Finance Editor at The Independent. He edits the Saturday Your Money section and writes the Daily Money column and Wednesday’s Midweek Money section in i newspaper. He also writes for the news and business pages of the Independent and i newspaper and is a regular money commentator on TV station London Live. He has won numerous awards including Consumer Finance Journalist of the Year.
Friday 07 March 2014
Are banks starting to change? This week Lloyds Banking Group's boss, António Horta-Osório, set out his plans for the future of the troubled company.
Pleasingly, the words "profit" and "shareholder return" weren't at the forefront of his message. Instead, the former Santander chief talked about helping people. He promised to help "more customers get on the housing ladder" and to "help our customers plan and save for later life".
He said: "We'll take a lead in financial inclusion to enable all individuals to access, and benefit from, the products and services they need to make the most of their money."
He talked about plans to measure the bank's economic and social impact, and to use its "power to influence the most change for the benefit of customers and communities across the UK".
He was brought into the bank to change its sickening commission-hungry culture, and his words this week suggest he intends to force through that change.
His move follows a similar one by new Royal Bank of Scotland boss Ross McEwan, who last month set out a programme to return the mainly taxpayer-owned bank to a position where it is trusted, rather than vilified. RBS hopes that by 2020 it will have reversed its position as Britain's most despised bank. By then it wants to be "the number one bank for customer service and the most trusted bank in the UK".
It hopes to effect this change of perception by scrapping such dodgy practices as teaser rates and 0 per cent transfer deals. Instead Mr McEwan has pledged to play fair with customers.
If both these big bank bosses are to be believed, we are entering a world of fairness and trust where they treat customers with respect and even – whisper it – help them through the complicated and troubled world of finance.
If we could get to that place, I would be delighted. I know from your letters and emails that many of you just need somewhere to go for some basic, honest financial advice.
If banks really can put aside their need to squeeze every penny of profit out of their customers, they can return to a position of trust. They could even return to a position where we would happily recommend them to family and friends as a source of advice.
And that's something that's desperately needed by millions of people. Despite the ending of the recession, many people are still struggling to cope; being able to chat about their problems with helpful bank staff, rather then being flogged expensive and often unnecessary insurance, could make a massive difference.
Talking of helpful bank staff, thank you so much for all your messages about your positive experiences with banks. I plan to give over part of the section to a one-off "In praise of banks" feature that will include many of your stories.
One reader from the Lake District wrote of her local branch: "The staff have been very helpful and have helped to get me back on the straight and narrow."
Meanwhile a Scottish reader said of her local branch: "Customers are greeted like friends and glitches are handled quickly and effectively. The staff never attempt to engage in unwanted selling of services when I am at the till doing other business."
There are countless more stories from people who are pleased with their banks. However, they all have one thing in common: no one praises the bank's products. All the positive stories are about local bank workers who have been friendly and helpful.
It is frontline local people who have saved the banks. And it is they who are the big banks' biggest assets. Despite the risky casino banking and computer cock-ups from head office, they have tried to be decent to customers. More power to them!
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