Changing bank culture: Hold individuals responsible

For far too many people, the phrase “bank customer care” has become an oxymoron mocking the unequal relationship between financial institutions and everyday customers. It may have been different when you could actually phone your local branch and speak to a human, but modern banking is increasingly self-service and remote from consumers.

Yesterday, speaking at the launch of the Irish Banking Culture Board, which hopes to rebuild trust in the sector, junior finance minister Michael D’Arcy told bankers they are on their “last chance” to restore faith in the industry. He reminded them of the tracker mortgage scandal, which had done “terrific damage”. His assertion is accurate, but maybe he should consider how his Government’s softly-softly response to the fleecing has negatively influenced perception of politicians. It is hard to understand why no prosecutions were initiated. That any sanction imposed on the banks is ultimately paid by customers just rubs salt into that wound.

Our way of life is utterly dependent on a healthy, honest banking system. Maybe it’s time to balance that reliance with a process that would hold bankers personally responsible for their actions, rather than allowing a curtain of corporate comfort to shield misbehaviour. Maybe it’s also time to recognise as naive the idea that banks will change their profit-is-all culture unless they are forced to do so by legislation — and the firm, unblinking application of that legislation.

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