"Oh no, at it again Eldon? Tell me, just whose side do you think you're on?"
One of the problems of a being born a Libran is the propensity to see clearly both sides of an argument and then being willing to argue either side, depending on how one is feeling on a particular day. My other somewhat indefensible traits are a stubbornness to the point of just being bloody-minded, a tendency to like people no one else likes, and ... yes, being too judgmental. The latter, given the previous comments are almost a contradiction in terms I fear, but then perhaps "complexity" should have been my middle name.
So where am I going with this? Well, frankly I am getting fed up with personally being branded as irresponsible and apparently the devil incarnate if I admit to my membership of the banking profession. It is a judgement call by others who don't know me but who guess that because I admit to being a banker, I am clearly a rogue. I may well be, of course, but I believe at least that I'm an honest one! I am also pretty thick-skinned, so it shouldn't bother me as much as it apparently does, but I am more concerned perhaps with my colleagues in the industry who are constantly and often unfairly being pilloried. At least in that part of banking I know the best - commercial banking, as opposed to Investment Banking.
And in this matter of judgement calls I can do no better than to quote from Mr. Eric Hoffer's book "The True Believer" written in 1951, when he wrote:
There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation, or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements.
My particular points relate to it being manifestly unfair that we should all be charged with the same offences, but I have to take the point that the judgment has some justification!! For example in the days when I started banking you would often not open an account for a person whose family at large were deemed to be “unsound”, even if the individual was the Archbishop!
I first started to write about Banks and Bankers in relation to the perception of them in the media and elsewhere - in July last year, in a piece entitled "Banking on the Culture". I argued then, as I would do again today, that the downfall and the justifiable criticism of the Banks, the industry and some of its participants was based on money ➡ people ➡ greed. It led to a change in culture so much so that I thought of calling the piece "When the Cultural Shifts Hit the Fan". I am not going to repeat those arguments here, but my concern was that it was just a handful of participants in the industry that ruined the good name of the many totally committed, honest and loyal people who put in a solid day's work serving the public to the best of their ability.
But the general public perception, which thankfully hasn't yet put bankers behind politicians in the "trust" stakes - and the last few weeks in US politics should ensure bankers stay ahead - doesn't recognise the majority! Democracy rules - yeh, right! So I am sticking up for honest bankers, which is not the oxymoron some might think!
BUT - and isn't there always one? ...when I sit down and look again at what I wrote 15 months ago, and re-read the press comments at that time from bankers saying they had to change, and they would do this and do that - what has actually happened? And I am saddened to say that in many cases not much. As the economy recovers, old practices are beginning to re-emerge, banks are looking for ways to increase their profits so they can reward their shareholders - which is fair enough, but what is happening to rewarding their customers, and making their staff feel proud of the industry in which they work?
Vested interests would prevent me from saying that not all banks are oblivious to the needs of their customers, although I have to say they show it in strange ways sometimes. The proof of this though, will be in the reality of better services from the banks that are seen to be behaving properly, and a shareholder/customer revolt against those that still don't get it.
Is it a surprise that the UK bank best rated for service in a Which? magazine survey in May 2013 is an online bank? No branch network, but it doesn't seem to matter. Oh, and so is the second best rated, and the third, and that one doesn't even have a telephone service!!
I hear complaints about banks in many of the countries I visit - and I still visit a lot of them. Complaints are a common feature of many service industries; the skill is learning both how to deal with them and how to improve as part of the learning process. In this area the industry does have some way to go. However, until it addresses the concerns of its customers and gets used to the regulators (who are not going to go away, no matter how much you appeal), and by the way, removing the “greed” element that I believe changed the culture of the industry, and makes the media understand that the banks - and the people in them - actually are capable of doing a good job, nothing much is going to change.
And for me? Well, I will just swallow hard and if people who don’t know me want to suggest I am a fraud, and a charlatan, and two-faced, and singlehandedly brought down the global financial structure or whatever … that’s their uninformed view and one I am happy to say does not seem to be shared by those who know me. And I am still a banker, and I will still try and ensure any institutions I am involved with are worthy of their customers.