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Home > Opinion > Tony Hazell

How do we restore trust in face of endemic corruption?

I doubt there is a person in this country who has not been personally ripped off by our financial services industry.

By Tony Hazell | Published Jul 12, 2012 | Your Industry | comments

Can the reputation of the financial services sector possibly be dragged any lower? I write as one whose own trade is rightly under investigation in the Leveson Inquiry.

The Libor rigging scandal that has claimed the heads of both Barclays’ chairman and its chief executive is just one of a seemingly endless list that have embroiled financial services in the past 20 years or so.

I doubt there is a person in this country who has not, in some way, been personally ripped off by our financial services industry or had a close relative affected.

Corruption, it sometimes seems, is endemic in some of our banks. I have a huge amount of sympathy for hard-working branch staff who are forced on a daily basis to justify the avarice, incompetence or plain dishonesty of their bosses.

Does anyone truly believe that the wide-scale product mis-selling and interest-rate fixing that have grabbed the headlines in recent weeks can go on without the knowledge of middle and senior management?

If the management claim it has, then they are either fools for not knowing or they are being less than honest.

In either case they have no place running a public company of any sort, let alone a bank.

Of course, scandals stretch back further, but in the past two decades there seem to have been more scandals affecting more people. Or was it just that no one was holding our financial services industry up to scrutiny before?

Suggestions made in some snootier newspapers that this is solely the work of barrow boys do not stand up to the scantiest examination. Public schoolboys have played their part in this dirty saga too.

Yet the demise of the professional seems to have gone hand in hand with the rise of corruption.

So where do we go from here? It looks as though we will be saddled with a parliamentary inquiry. Given the amount of knowledge and understanding the average politician appears to have of financial services and, in particular banks, then this does not bode well.

Sadly this government has stepped back from the most sensible course which would be to separate completely the investment and retail banking arms.

Handing over regulatory control of the casino arms to the Bank of England clearly makes sense. Except ex-Barclays boss Bob Diamond has now scattered some raw sewage in that direction. The email published last week certainly implies that he believed officials at some level were concerned that Barclays was setting its interest rates higher than other banks.

What of consumers? From their point of view there is an urgent need to restore trust in our banks.

I would suggest something simple to start.

Customers who wish to complain should be offered a normal geographical or free 0300 number. Why should people have to pay up to 50p a minute to call an 0845 from a mobile phone when their bank has made a mistake?

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