Belfast Telegraph

If ‘they’ don’t fix the banking crisis, I just might have to

By Tom Sutcliffe

What shall we do about bankers? It's a question that neither seems to be getting an answer nor going away, which is a most frustrating combination.

And I wonder whether, in the absence of any immediate hope that it will be answered, it needs a bit of grammatical tinkering.

‘We’, after all, is altogether too vague and forgiving a term. It tempts us with the hope that some amorphous ‘you’ or ‘they’ will actually get round to the task first, allowing ‘me’ not to bother at all.

Unfortunately, ‘you’ and ‘they’ don't seem to be tackling things with any urgency — whether we're talking political parties or bankers themselves.

The former mutter that it's all terribly complicated and can only be solved at a global level (which is tantamount to saying don't expect it to be solved at all) while the latter appear to be keeping their heads down this year in the full knowledge that it will be business as usual as soon as the dust has settled.

I don't know about you, but I wasn't hugely impressed by the decision of the HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan to donate his £4m bonus to charity — a piece of private financial information which somehow leaked into the public domain. The total of £4m, I take it, is a price he thinks well worth paying this year to preserve the principle of massive bonuses for many years ahead.

Time, surely, for me to do something. Market forces are the justification generally advanced for the inflation of salaries in the banking sector and I'm a bit of the market — even if an admittedly negligible one. That's no excuse for being negligent though — and in this regard ordinary consumers have been, perhaps out of a sense of individual powerlessness.

I have a vague memory that I voted against the demutualisation of the Halifax Building Society years ago, but I honestly can't remember.

And it's entirely possible that I tossed the relevant paperwork in the bin in the belief that some corporate shareholder would make the decision for me anyway. Too late to change that foolish decision, unfortunately, but it isn't too late to change my bank account — as the American grassroots campaign Move Your Money has been encouraging ordinary consumers to do.

Set up by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson, and publicised on the Huffington Post, the idea was simple. Anyone concerned at the recklessness, greed and social indifference of the Wall Street casino banks should move their account to one of America's very many small community banks.

Huffington described it as a “withdrawal tax” on banks that had failed in their duties. And not so long ago the Move Your Money campaign helped persuade a very big account-holder to follow suit. Earlier this year the State of New Mexico voted to move more than $2bn of state funds to credit unions and small banks.

I'm not quite sure where I'll go yet. I'd like to move to the bank I already part-own (as a taxpayer), but only if the Government had the nerve to sell off the Royal Bank of Scotland's investment arm and reconstitute what was left as some kind of old-fashioned mutual society. Failing that I think I'll have to look at the Co-op, a bank that has already enjoyed a striking increase in its retail business thanks to its ethical |approach.

Like most other people I don't really want to do this (people are more likely to move house than change their bank, apparently). It involves writing boring letters and digging up boring bits of paperwork. But given that ‘they’ aren't going to do anything useful, I don't think I have any choice.

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