James Moore: Walker the talker has plenty to say, but in the end it will be actions which count

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The Independent Online

Outlook It was Walker the talker at yesterday's hearing of the hastily convened Parliamentary inquiry into banking. MPs famously enjoy the sound of their own voices but Sir David Walker, the incoming chairman of Barclays, could teach them a thing or two. Andrew Tyrie, the inquiry's chairman, repeatedly urged brevity on both Sir David and his interrogators with little success.

Still, in addition to lots of talk about banking needing to pull its socks up (sort of compulsory at these events) he did at have a few interesting things to say.

Among them was a call for regulators to force banks to scrap "unfair" free banking, which will be music to some of his new colleagues' ears. Sir David says it leads banks to undercharge the thrifty, people who remain in credit, at the expense of those who go into the red every month and are duly over charged so banks can make good their losses. The same driver, he argues, is behind the creation of worthless products like payment protection insurance. How else would those poor banks keep the wolves from the door?

It's a faintly ridiculous line of argument and does Sir David really want to set a precedent whereby regulators decide much or how little banks can charge?

If banks feel they don't get a proper return on "free" products like current accounts there's nothing stopping them from pulling the plug. Or simply charging and letting others make losses if customers bolt. And does he really believe that charging for current accounts would somehow have stopped banks from ripping people off? That's scarcely credible given what we know of the industry's fetid culture.

However, Sir David's evidence wasn't all dross.

His renewed call for the publication of pay bands showing how many bankers are on contracts worth more than £1m at each of Britain's banks (good idea) will have gone down about as well as a cynic in the Olympic Park at his new employer, which has an inordinate number of them.

His support for getting rid of commission-based selling and bonuses for simply pushing product is also welcome, although we'll see how this translates into the way Barclays does business when he gets there.

Which is how he will ultimately be judged. Sir David talks a lot because he knows that ultimately it is cheap. Translating it into action at an institution like Barclays is a different matter entirely.