Reversing the Big Bang
Lord (Adair) Turner, the chairman of the FSA, spoke this week about the need to rebuild trust in the banking industry.
With ongoing scandals and public outrage about directors pay making those who work in financial services about as popular as a fox in a chicken coop, his speech, Banking at the Crossroads: Where Do We Go Now, called for the industry and regulators to tackle the public perception of what he called “a vital contributor to the UK economy”.
Outlining a five-point plan to bring back trust, Lord Turner called on “new macro-prudential policy approaches, structural change, better more intense and more robust conduct supervision and enforcement, and action by leadership of banks to improve cultures and values”.
He also called for more recognition and understanding from regulators, politicians, consumer groups and the general public into the challenges the banks face.
But could he have said more?
In covering the story for Financial Adviser, I spoke to, Harry Katz of the Middlesex-based Norwest Consultants. He accused Lord Turner and his colleagues of too much navel gazing, and called for a more radical approach to reform the banking industry - bring back Captain Mainwaring.
The titular captain was of course the star of the BBC’s classic comedy Dad’s Army, and was a bank manager. He evoked a different time when the bank manager could make decisions off his own back and was a respected member of the community.
He essentially ran a community-based utility.
The deregulation which followed the Big Bang of 1986 changed our banks forever, with retail and investment banks now becoming inextricably linked. But the call to separate them is now getting stronger and stronger. Mr Katz told me that the only way to really restore confidence in the industry would be for the high street banks to revert to their old image.
Not so much the bowler hat from Capt Mainwaring’s days, but a bank which didn’t gamble with people’s money, and offered simple everyday products.
The public, fuelled by the national press, have a certain opinion of our bankers, but the thousands who work in our high street banks had nothing to do with the financial meltdown we have been living through for the past four years.
Perhaps if the two entities were split up again, the high street banks could revert to a more community based enterprise and the City could spread its wings again, and maybe, the public’s confidence would also be restored.