Saturday 16 April 2011

Robber Banks

The Vickers Report on banking has received a half-hearted welcome. The consensus seems to be that a "firewall" between retail banking and casino activities can be easily circumvented and will not stop them using our savings to gamble and, if the get it wrong again, once more bring the word's commerce close to collapse. Complete separation, as Vince Cable has long proposed, is the only effective safeguard.

The report does not seems to touch the matter that troubles me most at a personal level: that banks (and some building societies) will, unless you watch them like a hawk, put your savings on the "back burner" with a derisory rate of interest. With Lloyds TSB this is currently 0.1% gross, 0.08% net. That's per year. But if you borrow from them by an overdraft they will charge you 1.48% per month, or 19.3% per year. This huge gap, 241 times their savings rate according to my calculator, ought to cause outrage but we seem, like supine puppies, to have accepted it as the way of the world about which nothing can be done.

I realise that I am fortunate to have savings, and that anyone with debts would think it a luxury to be able to spend time shuffling savings around seeking an honest rate of interest. Frankly, I have better things to do with my retirement (such as delivering leaflets in support of AV). What I want is a bank or building society which will treat me fairly - one in which I can put my savings, not necessarily for the highest rate, but a fair rate, and one which will not drop to a derisory level if I don't keep constant track of it.

Competition ought to produce such a bank or building society, but it doesn't seem to. Perhaps here is a rĂ´le for one of the government-owned banks. Failing that, strict usury laws, not just to curb excessively high loan rates but also to prevent banks from robbing savers who take their eyes off the ball.

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