UK consumer watchdog says will keep banks competitive

July 29, 2009

LONDON, July 29 (Reuters) – Britain’s consumer watchdog vowed on Wednesday to ensure the government did not harm long-term banking competition in its efforts to shore up financial markets and sell state-owned bank assets.

In a financial services plan, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it would sharpen its focus this year to concentrate on promoting fairness between the credit industry and its customers and advocating choice and competition.

“(We will work) with government to ensure that any short-term actions taken by it to stabilise financial markets do not unduly distort competition over the long term and that plans to return banks to the market are pro-competitive,” the OFT said.

The watchdog has pressured financial firms on their charges, interest rates, insurance plans and other areas in recent years.

But the worst financial crisis since the 1930s forced Britain to put billions of pounds into the sector and nationalise Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, arrange a shotgun wedding of Lloyds Banking Group and HBOS, and take a majority stake in Royal Bank of Scotland.

The government plans to offload the shares in RBS and Lloyds through a protracted series of sales into markets.

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