Anyone with a bank account will know it does not take long for the banks to demand their money if customers mix up a direct debit or accidentally go over their overdraft.
So why does it take so long for the banks to put right their mistakes?
It was in July 2010 that The Herald revealed how a software glitch at the Clydesdale Bank led to thousands of customers underpaying on their mortgages. It was an error entirely of the bank's making, yet it wrote to customers and told them they would have to fix the problem by paying the money back.
In some cases, this meant customers suddenly owing thousands of pounds more than they thought. Some families were worried they would not be able to afford their mortgage repayments.
It is only now, three years after the mistake, that the sorry mess is finally being put right and it is no thanks to the Clydesdale Bank.
When it was first tipped off by an accountant that the underpayments were happening, the bank dithered. It then wrote to customers telling them their monthly repayments would have to go up to fix the problem, in some cases by as much as £500 a month.
Even when the full scale of the crisis was exposed by this newspaper, still the Clydesdale did not behave properly. Instead of offering to fix the problem, it put all the onus on customers to complain to the Financial Ombudsman. Those who did not have the knowledge or determination to do so lost out. It is only now the Financial Conduct Authority has intervened and fined the Clydesdale almost £9 million that the bank has finally been forced to put matters right for everyone, and do so promptly. Around 14,000 customers will be given a refund within 48 hours. The remainder will hear from the bank in the next couple of weeks.
All of this is welcome, although there should have been a satisfactory solution a long time ago. David Thorburn, chief executive of Clydesdale, has admitted the affair was badly handled and says he is sorry; what has not been addressed is the fact that serious damage has been caused to his bank's reputation.
The Clydesdale was certainly not immune to the problems faced by bigger banks but it did appear to emerge relatively unscathed from the financial crisis. Indeed, the Australian-owned institution sought to capitalise on that with adverts that emphasised its Scottishness, proximity to communities and apparent prudence.
The Clydesdale must seek to restore some of its reputation and good will. Finally fixing the mortgage crisis is only the first step. The mistake the bank made when that crisis emerged was that it relied on the letter of the law, which says customers have an obligation to pay off the sum borrowed over an agreed term. What the bank refused to recognise was the letter of the law was also deeply unfair to blameless customers doing their best to pay their mortgage out of increasingly tight budgets.
Now, after a long battle, the bank has finally admitted the truth of this. The hope now is that it will never again put commercial interests before fairness and punish its customers for its own mistakes.
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