Letter: A bank-basher's overdrawn account

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The Independent Online
I WAS surprised - and saddened - by the tone of your leading article headed 'Banks no longer deserve our trust' (6 September).

I would be the first to admit that banks have made mistakes in their lending, and that in a recession they make a convenient scapegoat. But it is quite outrageous to claim that banks are 'fleecing all small businesses', at a time when bank managers are doing all they can to help their business customers through their present difficulties, and when banks are writing off an estimated pounds 5m every business day on loans made to small businesses.

Your allegation that the only good bank customer is one who overdraws and can be charged, is totally false. On the contrary, we welcome customers who handle their financial affairs efficiently. The recent attacks arose not because any new charges had been proposed, but because some bankers pointed out the unfairness of the charging system. It is undeniably true that the 20 per cent of personal customers who overdraw, to some extent subsidise the 80 per cent who do not and who pay no charges at all.

It is taken for granted in other industries that customers should pay for the services they actually use. In banking, even to suggest such an arrangement apparently invites condemnation. But the fact is that most current accounts are run at a loss. To cover the substantial direct costs to the bank associated with running a current account, a customer would need to keep an average balance of between pounds 400 and pounds 500 in his account, but fewer than half do so.

In contrast to recent press comment, our research shows that the vast majority of customers are broadly satisfied. Nevertheless, we know we should do better, and Barclays is making great efforts in terms of staff training and investment in new technology to do just that.

It is true that banks have changed over the years, but not in the negative way you suggest. Their branches are more welcoming, their staff better trained, their product-range wider and their services more efficient, offering to customers in Britain a banking service among the best in the world. The banks have had to adapt to meet increased competition, as well as greater customer expectations. They still have some way to go, but your ill-informed, sour trawl through the current vocabulary of bank-bashing does nothing to advance that process.

Sir John Quinton

Barclays Bank plc

London EC3