Will Kitemarks for bank products be an exercise in kite-flying?

 

When the serious and aloof banker George Banks learns the importance of laughing and loving his family in the Disney version of Mary Poppins, he takes to the park to sing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”.

It’s the film’s feelgood finale as the cold-hearted careerist celebrates his realisation that spending time with his children is more important than his job.

The film came to mind this week after regular correspondent Robert Johnson emailed a response to my article last Saturday celebrating “a revolution in simple savings and insurance products”.

To remind you, the article reported that a year after a Government review demanded that banks scrap confusing gimmicks and tricks, the first new product to pass a stringent simplicity test has been launched.

The Barclays life insurance has been awarded a BSI Kitemark which, it is hoped, will send out a reassuring message to consumers.

But it doesn’t to Robert Johnson. He wrote: “I suppose I should be pleased that the BSI has approved a ‘simple’  bank product with more to come. Forgive me for being cynical, but I’ve a note to remind myself to watch out for bankers hiding behind a kite(mark).”

Of course Robert’s right to be cynical. We all should be when presented with banks’ claims that they’re actually doing anything to make things easier or better for consumers.

But in this case the movement for change has come from outside the banks themselves. Carol Sergeant, the author of the Treasury-commissioned review that called for simpler financial products, told me: “We needed a first mover and I didn’t mind who it was. Now the challenge is there for others to follow.”

And that’s the crucial aspect. All banks and building societies should be compelled to launch similar simple products so that consumers can find anywhere an easy-to-understand savings account with no tricks or gimmicks. Banks already must offer basic bank accounts. They should also offer simple savings.

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