Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Profit and Loss

It's nice to know, as major shareholders and owners of 5 banks in the UK, that we are being royally screwed at both ends.

I am sure endless puns and innuendos can be made of that statement but whichever way you cut it, banks are pretty nasty to us. On the one hand, they make extortionate profits out of thin air and spread the proceeds amongst themselves. Then when the whole scam is revealed, we have to bail them out to the tune of £trillions - effectively footing the bill for every bit of profit they have lost and more. Then, since the very existence of banks, they have crippled the customers with expensive, incomprehensible and downright unjustifiable overdraft charges.

Last month a court upheld the right of banks to charge basically whatever they want and not have to justify it to customers, which was amazing enough. Now the regulator, Office of Fair Trading (OFT), has dropped its attempts to rein banks in. Once again, regulators and authorities seem to be powerless when it comes to even the simple things at banks, so imagine what it must be like when it comes to the more important things like losing £billions or paying themselves hearty bonuses for doing nothing since the Crash.

It is clear that banks operate in a twilight world where people who ask questions or try to intervene are systematically told to get lost, be bamboozled by technicalities, are blackmailed in terms of consequences of interference or simply reminded of who their friends are (as in the case of Government ministers). The result is that the taxpayer, despite paying for both ends of the spectrum, has no say or form of recourse in what happens to them. If banks fail, we are told that we are liable yet if banks want to continue to shaft us for excessive fees, they can.

It really comes back to this whole point of banking reform. As shareholders and stakeholders we should have far more say in what goes on. Why should we pay such unjustifiable fees when we are bailing them out and supporting liquidity in the financial markets, from which a small percentage of people are benefiting to the tune of £millions in bonuses? We sit here like lemons letting it all happen - thinking a couple of quid of windfall tax will sort out the problems.

Perhaps, if we got ministers, regulators and non-executive directors in who cared about all this we might get some progress, but while we populate the FSA with former bank executives and have Government with ministers who want to be non-execs of banks, we will not get anywhere.

Just try not paying the fees, and the law will pound you for money and jail you if you refuse. Perhaps the bank executives ought to get some of the same treatment for their losses?

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