Banking needs reform, and we can help to bring it about

Charities should demand a better deal from their banks, says Peter Mitchell of CAF Bank

I read with interest of a new campaign launched by Which? called Britain Needs Better Banks.

It argues for reform of Britain's banks and the banking regulatory regime and is a response to some of the apparent shortcomings of many of our high-street banks, some of their products and the way they operate - from high overdraft fees to a selling culture driven by targets.

The Government is attempting to increase competition by selling branches of the merged Lloyds-HBOS group and RBS to new banks. Two large consumer-focused brands, Tesco and Virgin, have declared an interest in rivalling the traditional high-street brands. It remains to be seen whether they would improve customer service, but could better customer service from new players increase the number of people seeking to change banks? Historically we were more likely to divorce than to change bank, but could this statistic be shifting?

After last year's banking crisis, consumers began to look at the high-street banks in a new light. The relationship has changed since customers, as taxpayers, became major stakeholders in Northern Rock, Lloyds TSB, HBOS and RBS, while the entire worldwide banking system was supported by direct action by governments across the globe.

Charities should be demanding a better deal from their banks in terms of customer service and fees. The collapse of the Icelandic banks last year meant that many moved funds into safer hands and across multiple banks. Specialist and government-owned banks capitalised on this quest for safer homes for funds. At CAF Bank, we experienced exceptional growth last year in the number of new customers opening accounts and in funds deposited. Will customers, including charities, remain more open to the idea of changing their bank?

The banking sector certainly needs to be reformed and to change some of its operating methods, but there is plenty that the consumer - in our case, charities - can do to enforce change through the power of choice. Charities can actively promote a change in banking culture by moving to banks that offer them lower charges, better levels of customer service or the best all-round offer.

The paperwork might seem daunting, but more and more banks have taken steps to simplify the process and make it as easy as possible for customers to switch accounts, standing orders and direct debits.

Time can no longer be used as an excuse for inaction. It is only through customers actively taking a stance and leading by example that banks will change their ways.

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