Given the global nature of the modern banking system, any significant series of events has the ability to spread at a rapid pace through the major markets.
That is even easier as big bank shenanigans were taking place in most major markets anyway, so it wasn’t like they needed any help.
The United Kingdom had its fair share of unethical behavior. From the LIBOR scandal to the London Whale, our allies across the pond did not have to wait long between instances of malfeasance.
The mounting frustration created by these financial escapades motivated a group of twenty-something friends to create Move Your Money U.K. Based on the Move Your Money Project in the U.S. which claims to have encouraged the moving of 10 million accounts since 2010, Move Your Money U.K. has helped more than 2.4 million people find alternatives to the traditional banking system since its birth just over a year ago.
The labor pains behind the birth of Move Your Money U.K. will sound familiar to people anywhere.
“The campaign came about from a mutual frustration with how the banking system in the U.K. operates,” said Move Your Money U.K.’s Sam Brightbart.
“Banking executives received large salaries and bonuses while the economy was still in recession. At the same time the big High Street banks were getting into various scandals and emotions began to boil over.”
The tipping point for many in the U.K. was 2012’s LIBOR scandal. Standing for London Interbank Offered Rate, the LIBOR is the calculated daily average of the rates at which banks can borrow from each other in the London interbank market. Individual banks would submit artificially high or low rates depending on whether they had funds due or owed. They encouraged their cohorts at other institutions to do the same.
Frustration with LIBOR had a strong foundation to start from, as the citizenry was already dealing with the PPI scandal.
Banks, seeing the high profit margins in mortgage insurance, began aggressively pushing the products, often to people who had no need of it. Those that did found it hard to collect, as policies were structured in such a language as to exclude as many people as possible, including the genuinely ill for whom the devices were initially meant for.
Many waited inordinately long periods of time for payment and had to jump through logistical hoop after logistical hoop designed for nothing more than to wear out claimants. Many others did not qualify for a payout based on self-employment status or other factors, but still paid premiums as high as 50+%. In some cases people were sold the product without their knowledge.
The resulting frustration from PPI and LIBOR resulted in a series of “stunts” outside bank branches that brought even more attention to Move Your Money U.K.
Sam Brightbart sees a looming tipping point that should cause further disenchantment with the banks.
“Come September, banks will have to be able to transfer accounts within a week’s time,” said Brightbart. “Prior to this many people did not want to switch banks because of the hassle, but this should make it much easier.”
Move Your Money U.K. has a large campaign planned, including a website makeover that will provide a scorecard that people can use to rate banking options on the criteria that matter most to them. They are also crowdfunding for funds to back a mass media advertising campaign.
Campaign donations and the extensive lobbying seen in Washington did not have as noticeable of an effect in the United Kingdom, but many are waiting for the aftermath of the September elections to see how Parliament deals with some key aspects of the recovery.
“Banks like RBS and Lloyd’s are heavily government-owned since the bailouts and are being pushed to act in certain ways to suit (the tone) of the re-election campaigns,” explains Brightbart. “(Current Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne wants to privatize them because it looks better at face value. This may not be the best solution, especially with RBS, because if the shares are sold now, the public will incur a huge loss.”
There must be a Financial Crisis Management pamphlet out there somewhere, because regardless of what side of the Atlantic you live on, everyone was singing from the same two-step hymnal. Step one was adopting the Sergeant Schultz “I zee nut-TING!” approach.
Executives accustomed to calling the shots and not letting significant events escape their attention were now claiming complete ignorance about moves that had devastating consequences on entire country’s economies (and beyond) and their bottom lines.
“The pay culture of the banks rewards short-term profits with massive bonus packages, giving them incentives to achieve profit at all costs, even if that means cheating and lying,” explains Brightbart, who added that it was hard to fathom that a small handful of traders were able to concurrently manipulate rates at several locations around London without authorization or others discovering the ruse and stopping it if they were so inclined.
“It seems very unlikely that people weren’t paying attention to it or didn’t know some manipulation was occurring, including (former Barclay’s head) Bob Diamond.”
Step two was to let a few sacrificial lambs twist in the wind while adamantly insisting this will never happen again.
“There were orders from some higher-ups leading to the Lloyd’s PPI scandal,” Brightbart says. “The fact that employees were being trained to ignore customer complaints shows that it wasn’t a few isolated people in this scenario.”
Also universal is the feeling that those most responsible have yet to be properly punished.
Those that have been penalized don’t exactly need a tag day to get by.
“Some banking heads have been removed, but with huge severance packages there has been no real accountability,” said Brightbart.
There is hope on the horizon in the United Kingdom. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has shown a willingness to seriously crack down on banking ethics. Brightbart is hopeful.
“Their recently released report discussed the fact that people are currently not held accountable for their actions and they hope to get to the bottom of more of these problems and hand out more serious punishments in the future.”
Movements born from emotion often wither on the vine once the initial feelings subside, but the continuous repercussions of the financial crisis, fed by new revelations and ongoing legislative battles have allowed Move Your Money U.K. to develop an infrastructure that may very well allow it to become a long term public advocate for the victims of continued and future financial wrong doing.
The 2.4 million people who have switched bank accounts during the 18 months Move Your Money U.K. has been in existence is more than triple the normal transfer rate for a similar time frame.
Public response to Move Your Money U.K.’s initiatives related to the looming September changes will play a role in its future, but the group is not waiting for the fall.
They are developing other tools for additional groups that have a role to play in financial reform.
“We developed a toolkit that sets out options available to local councils who collectively manage budgets of billions of pounds.” offers Brightbart. “We hope that moving your money will become an option for even a greater variety of people as well as a greater variety of organizations, including charities, small businesses, churches, and more.”
Move Your Money U.K. doesn’t just encourage you to switch accounts, they tell you how to do it step-by-step. Alongside this information is a list of alternative banking options with links to comparable sites that augment the information there, sites such as Ethical Consumer and listing of the institutions offering the highest interest rates for savings accounts. They also encourage like-minded visitors to tell their stories and provide materials to enable first time activists to share their experience with their circles.
Move Your Money U.K. gets its funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, a charitable foundation that assists excluded communities.
They were initially staffed entirely by volunteers with backgrounds ranging from finance, media and education to newcomers motivated by their discontent of the modern financial system, but evolved to the point where full time personnel work for the organization.
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