Harsh closures highlight banks’ discord with customers
The sad predicament the UK banking sector finds itself in today can be summed up in HSBC’s decision to pull the last remaining bank branch from a thriving East Midlands community
Just over a week ago, I decided to get off my proverbial backside and go up to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire and meet with a few people I had been speaking to on and off about the impending closure of the village’s one and only bank branch. If only bank executives did the same thing – get off their enriched backsides that is – maybe they would not make some of the crass business decisions they continue to make.
My visit was perfectly sandwiched between yet two more banking scandals to add to the litany of scandals that have scarred the banking landscape since 2007 (think recession proof, sky-high executive bonuses, think payment protection mis-selling scandal) and which continue to fuel consumer mistrust in the wider financial services industry.
The week before, Royal Bank of Scotland, state-backed RBS, had enraged its customers as a failed computer software upgrade wreaked havoc with customers’ bank accounts. Payments in and out of accounts were not made, resulting in credit card bills not being paid, overdraft agreements being breached and mortgage payments being missed. The outrage from customers, understandably, was red hot with many vowing to leave and seek new pastures.
This banking debacle was then followed by a £290m fine slapped on Barclays for manipulating Libor rates in such a way that its financial health would look better than rivals – as well as providing some of the company’s bankers with the opportunity to earn yet more bonuses.
What next? Well, it looks like other banks besides Barclays will soon be implicated in this Libor racket with big fines heading their way. Furthermore, the FSA followed its finding of Barclays with confirmation it had reached agreement with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland over the provision of redress for the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products to small- and medium-sized businesses.
And, it looks like some of the big banks could also be heading for fines resulting from the incentive schemes that they put in place to get staff to promote to customers low value, high commission products over more consumer-friendly financial products.
Back to Woodhall Spa. If you have not been to this picturesque part of Lincolnshire I highly recommend it. Although the village has only some 3000 residents it supports a thriving retail community (52 independent shops and restaurants). It has got everything, from antique shops, a delicatessen laden with award winning pork pies and sausages, through to the country’s smallest shoe shop (three foot wide at its narrowest). Indeed, there is not one boarded-up shop.
The retailers thrive because of the beautiful surrounding Lincolnshire Wolds and a strong RAF connection that draws tourists in by the car load, coach load and caravan load (the village is home to three thriving caravan parks).
The village is also the site of the Dambusters Memorial, a site dedicated to those brave men who lost their lives in the second world war attempting to nullify the industrial might of Germany by bombing (successfully) the dams of the Ruhr.