I STILL recall the thrill of being an 18-year-old in 1973 walking up and down Byres Road in Glasgow, trying to choose which bank to join with my hard-earned £25 in my pocket as a deposit.
I looked at the impressive bank buildings and corporate bank signs with a sense of awe before finally choosing to walk, tentatively, through the impressive portals of The Royal Bank of Scotland. When my RBS cheque book and card finally arrived, I stared in admiration at the logo and felt privileged to be a customer.
Forty years later and my opinion of banks and their directors couldn't be much lower. And as a Scottish citizen I am now ashamed of the conduct of our banks and senior bankers. Over four decades I have felt the personal impact of so-called trusted banks going from being supportive financial institutions to profiteering, scandalous entities that have little if anything left to be admired by the general public.
At the age of 23 I applied for a mortgage and went through relatively vigorous processes to ensure I could afford to repay before the loan was granted. I also recall a clause in the terms back then that said if I were to repay early, I would receive an interest rebate. I moved house and remortgaged twice in my life and now have the means to finally pay off my mortgage; however my clause now reads that I have to pay an interest penalty to the bank for paying off early.
That speaks volumes about banks' attitudes to customers nowadays. We are mere commodities to be exploited for profit and I deplore that as much as I resent the massive bankers' bonuses that have the population reeling in disbelief and horror.
However, it was not always like this. When Barclays bank was started in the 1700s the founders, who were Quakers, began to realise that they were making very large profits and decided that they should give back to society by funding social care projects and became very philanthropic. Back then their philosophy was "to implant in (young) minds a sense of piety and virtue, and to train them up in the best things". Bank deposits were held from customers as a conditional trust, to help fellow men and women advance their businesses and improve their lives. Banks were honourable institutions and a credit to our society: "[Bankers] should put away all cozening and cheating, and to keep to 'yea' and 'nay', and speak the truth to one another" as well as having "honesty in all things" and "[no banker should] launch into trading and worldly business beyond what they can manage honourably and with reputation: so that they may keep their words with all men". Do you recognise any element of these ethics in modern banking?
Today the headlines read somewhat differently, with bank rate fixing scandals, accusations of money laundering, obscene senior management bonuses and the PPI scandal featuring prominently.
Modern life demands a bank account of some sort and you have to be on your toes to manage your money because banks simply cannot be trusted to look after it for us.
No sooner do you open a high interest account than the rate starts dropping in favour of "new products" to attract new customers. If you try to move your deposits to a higher interest account you are hit with transfer fees or some other hidden charges.
Everywhere you turn banks have deployed "actuary-driven" offers – to hook you in with "honeytrap" offers and then wallop you with fees or low interest if you miss a deadline or condition hidden in the small print. This is corporate exploitation of the public.
Scotland has long been a world leader in banking and finance and there must surely be one decent senior banker left who has the will and ability to form a new bank with the ethics and customer care that the population wants, needs and deserves.
It is sad to have to admit it, but Scotland needs a banking saviour and it needs one now.
72 Switchback Road,
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