The underbelly of the financial sector has shown itself to be far less than pristine since the outbreak of the global financial crisis. With fraud, manipulation and insider trading to its discredit, it seems as no manner of dirty dealing was beyond the scope of some bankers. However, the shame does not reside only at the top
Hardly a week goes by it seems without some new banking scandal in the headlines: tax evasion; LIBOR manipulation; mis-selling of derivative products and insurance; embargo dodging; money laundering, etc. Some of the obvious victims have included private investors and municipalities, but there are also innumerable faceless individuals and firms, taxpayers and savers who have suffered indirectly as a result of the apparent lack of integrity.
A couple of years ago I attended a speech by Georges Pauget, the then outgoing CEO of Crédit Agricole. The bank had escaped the worst of the financial crisis largely unscathed, so he had a very flattering tale to tell. Remember, bankers were not very popular characters in early 2010; in one poll they ranked just above ‘prostitute’ at the bottom of the list of occupations respondents said they would like to have as a friend.
The discovery that some UK households keep more than £1,000 in cash at home – often because they distrust banks – is causing some concern for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). The body, which protects consumers from losses when financial institutions go bust, is worried because cash held in British homes, some £5.6bn in total, is not protected by the scheme. In many cases, it may not be covered by domestic insurance policies either. The FSCS also believes the distrust of banks, expressed by some 13 percent of households in their research, is unwarranted.
A little while ago, I had the opportunity to see the obscurely-titled movie, ‘Margin Call’. Those familiar with the expression will not be surprised to discover that the story revolves around a US investment bank. The year was 2008, just ahead of the Lehman collapse. The tale begins when analyst Eric Dale finds himself victim of one of the typical rounds of employee layoffs.
Demonstrations in the Irish capital, Dublin, yesterday looked like a publicity stunt – the narrow-angled images and the presence of more photographers than demonstrators gave it away – but the foul mood of the Irish public is undeniable.
It was a with a palpably disapproving tone that the news announcer reported how a savings bank in Hamburg, Germany had categorised its clients on the basis of psychological profiles in order to sell insurance and investments more effectively. ‘The Hedonist’ and ‘The Adventurer’
Banking customers everywhere are sounding the call-to-arms against credit institutions that increase lending charges while offering only a paltry return on deposits. But while banks are correctly under pressure to be more transparent, we customers typically have a hand in overpaying – and continue on even while feeling we’re being gouged.
Who can blame Barclays for trying to recruit prison inmates as customers? The pressure is rising on High Street banks to be more transparent with their charges and this will almost certainly mean lower revenues in the future unless, of course, they can broaden their customer base. The official motivation behind the scheme from the Barclays spokesperson is to help the re-integration into society of prisoners near the end of their sentences through ‘financial inclusion’.Supposedly, it reduces the likelihood of re-offending by as much as 50 percent.
Financial markets are already in a state of heightened anticipation because of the soon to be published results of the EU bank stress tests. Now, Reuter’s newswire is quoting some European regulatory officials as saying that France wants to bring forward the publication time.
The British like the idea of free banking. By ‘free’ I mean no charges on current accounts as long as certain conditions are met (minimum balances maintained, minimum monthly credits, etc.). Most banking customers realise that their accounts cost their bank something to run, but they assume the absence of meaningful interest payments on credit balances and the puzzling time-lag between a payment leaving the payer’s account and its arrival on the payee’s is sufficient to allow the bank to make ends meet.