Should the public have a say in how banks are run?

February 24, 2010

New Peter Vicary Smith- Peter Vicary-Smith is the chief executive of Which? The opinions expressed are his own. -

This week, the great and the good of the banking will continue giving evidence to the Future of Banking Commission. Whilst big names such as Mervyn King, Paul Myners and Adair Turner will no doubt catch the eye, the evidence that sets this Commission apart will come from ordinary consumers.

The fact that previous post-mortems of the financial crisis haven’t sought the views of consumers is quite frankly appalling. Not only were consumers hit hardest by the downturn, but our hard-earned money has been used to sort the mess out.

Unemployment, higher taxes and uncertainty about future prospects are felt by all of us, not just those so far asked for their views on what sort of banking system should emerge. What we’re left with now is a largely public owned industry that everyone must use in order to participate in society but all too often refuses to act in the public interest.

If banks can have such an influence on our lives, then surely we should be able to have at least some degree of influence on them.

This is why, together with MPs David Davis, John McFall and Vince Cable, Which? has set up The Future of Banking Commission – to hear the public’s voice in the debate about banking, and make Government hear it too.

Our research shows a real desire from the public to have their say on the matter. 83 percent of people tell us that the Government should listen to the public as well as the banks when deciding how to reform the banking system.

More importantly, the fact that over 300 people came out on a cold winter’s evening in their free time to attend the Which? Big Banking Debate on Thursday 4th February shows the strength of feeling that is out there.

The event was a great opportunity for me and other members of the Commission to hear first hand the anger people feel about our banking system. Many people were telling us that they want more personal service and to feel valued by their bank, instead of the one size fits all approach that seems to prevail nowadays.

Others were concerned that bankers still seem able to take risks excessive with investors’ money and continue to pay themselves huge bonuses. The overall consensus was that banks have a long way to go before they win back the public’s trust.

I firmly believe that unless we give the public a genuine say in where banking goes from here, banks will never win back that trust.

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