By: James Daley, Which? Money
Unless you've been living in a cave on Mars with your fingers firmly in your ears for the last 18 months, you'll be aware that banks aren't exactly in the public's good books at the moment. Despite having caused the financial crisis and having been bailed out by obscene amounts of taxpayers' money, little seems to have changed. Bankers are still getting huge bonuses and customers still don't seem to be getting a good deal.
Understandably, people are more than a little peeved about this. But what can we do about it? Well, the first thing you can do is vote with your feet. If you're not happy with your bank, then leave. Our current account satisfaction surveys consistently show the big high street names at the bottom of the pile when it comes to keeping their customers happy, yet they continue to dominate the market. If enough people leave the big banks for better performing, lesser-known brands, then the big names will be forced to sit up and take notice and improve how they treat their customers.
When we talk about reform of the banking system, people are understandably sceptical. We've seen numerous reports and committees look into the causes of the financial crisis and how to safeguard against it happening again, yet little seems to have changed. What's more, the voice of the general public has been completely missing from this debate. We at Which? believe this is wrong. Through our taxes, we bailed out the banks in their hour of need, so surely our billions of pounds of investment should be worth us putting in our two pence-worth when the future of the banks comes up for discussion.
That's why Which? has joined with leading politicians from all parties, and others, to establish the Future of Banking Commission - to give ordinary people the chance to add their voice to the debate about how the banking system should be reformed.
The Future of Banking Commission, chaired by David Davis MP, will be the first report to look at the financial crisis from the point of view of normal people and the banking industry.
The commission will consist of four events early this year, the first of which will be the Which? Big Banking Debate, which will give consumers from across the UK the chance to have their say in how banks should be run. The debate will take place in at the Royal Horticultural Halls, 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE on Thursday 4 February from 5-8pm.
If you can't make it to this event, don't worry, you can still have your say. You can put forward your views on how banks should be run so that they work better for their customers and for the wider interests of society, by visiting www.which.co.uk/banking.
The views and opinions we gather in the build up to and at the Big Banking Debate will feed into three Select Committee-style evidence sessions in early 2010. The result will be a report on the future of banking, which will be published early in the life of the next Government to influence its start up work.
As well as asking for the views of ordinary people, we will be seeking evidence from a cross section of interest groups including the banking industry, academics, the Bank of England, the Financial Services Authority, Trades Unions and other consumer groups.
The Commission will be looking to answer such questions as which parts of banking are socially useful and which are not, the real impact on people of the financial crisis, how to rebalance the interests of consumers, banks, investors and others, and how to ensure greater competition in retail banking.
Not only has the financial crisis shaken the country's financial institutions, it has further damaged consumers' trust in them. We want to see a banking system that offers better products, genuine competition and fair treatment of its customers. By making the public part of the discussions about the future of banking, there is no reason why this vision can't become a reality.
By James Daley, editor, Which? Money