jamessaft1(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

There are encouraging signs that shareholders are becoming more assertive in defending their interests.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that some of Britain’s largest institutional shareholders – including Standard Life, Legal & General and M&G – are working on a plan to bypass investment banks by creating a club to underwrite new issues of equity by small and medium-sized British companies, a move that could save hugely on fees.

What, you may wonder, took them so long?

Second only to taxpayers, investors have been the great patsies of the financial crisis, paying massive costs to a financial services industry which has, to put it mildly, not served them well.

Activist shareholders and investors could be a key force in fixing what is wrong with the financial system. Unleashing their power to act in their own best interests should be a main thrust of new regulation.

The British investor group, reportedly being assisted by mergers and acquisition advisors Lazards, would effectively cut out the middle men by agreeing to take up any unwanted new shares in an offering. This is an idea which if successful could save companies and their owners huge amounts in fees and at the same time deal a blow to investment banking profitability.