With more than 44 years in the banking industry, I thought I’d seen everything. From financial crashes and media scandals, to fraudsters and bail outs, there’s nothing that could surprise me. Or so I thought.
But after just a few months in my time as an independent consultant, I’ve been made aware of even more surprising activity across the industry.
As someone who spent decades putting the long term needs of my customer first, it is very disappointing to learn that this was not always the case in other organisations, where a small number of individuals appear to have sought their own short-term gains at the cost of the livelihood of others.
I’ve been surprised by the extent of the mistreatment of some banks towards their customers. Not just in terms of the numbers of small businesses being unfairly placed into turn around units or mis-sold complex products, but the actions taken by certain bankers to push these dangerous tactics, ultimately bringing businesses to the brink of collapse.
Not only did they mislead customers, but they pulled the wool over the eyes of the rest of the industry. This meant that we, the honest bankers, were lead to believe that businesses placed into the likes of GRG (RBS’s now defunct turnaround unit) were there because of their own doing. Be it bad management or poor decision making. So our reluctance to offer preferable financial solutions to help them out of a difficult situation was with good reason, or so we thought.
A major disappointment and frustration of mine, however, is with the Financial Conduct Authority and its previous incarnation, the FSA. As a regulator and enforcer, it is responsible for ensuring best practice across the industry and protecting the interest of customers. But it has failed. I am disappointed with the FCA
- For allowing the banks to procrastinate in dealing with genuine complaints and grievances
- For not acting swiftly to stop bankers from disregarding agreed procedures
- For allowing banks to take advisers into review meetings, but not recommending the same to customers
- For letting the Section 166 investigation into GRG take so long, meaning many businesses might pass their limitation point
- For belatedly imposing onerous requirements on banks, compelling them to plough more resources into risk management than the needs of customers, putting many more employees in risk or laundering roles than customer-facing ones
- For allowing the relationships between banks and big accountancy firms to undermine faith in its review
- For being too late and too soft in its response to the unprecedented levels of misbehaviour we have seen over the past few years
Ultimately the FCA has given banks the upper hand. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, yet by letting them fail, the regulator has actually discouraged economic growth, given more power to dishonest bankers and risking the reputation of our financial sector.
But now, with a new chair, I can only hope that some swift changes will be brought about to rid the industry of the corrupt contingent and go back to prioritising the needs of customers.
Only with a strong, effective and innovative regulator can we all rebuild the structure and reputation of this vital industry.