THERE was a time when the banking sector was renowned for its conservatism and probity.
Half a century ago, when the makers of Dad’s Army were looking for a character to play a Home Guard platoon commander, nobody was surprised by their choice of Captain Mainwaring, the fictional bank manager from Walmington-on-Sea.
Mainwaring may have been snobbish and pompous but his status as the boss of the local bank still carried a certain gravitas.
During the 20th century, the local bank manager was regarded as the ultimate safe pair of hands. He - or she - was there to stop credit being extended to fools and knaves.
The best local managers had the wisdom to ensure the long-term needs of the bank and its customers were neatly aligned. Their ranks may have included the odd rogue, but in general bank managers who lived in a small town were upright, no nonsense figures whose integrity was never questioned. They were a restraining hand on the rash and the weak.
Times have changed and not for the better. A modern version of Captain Manwairing would probably be based in a call centre, marshalling a virtual army.
The closure of bank branches across the country has reduced footfall in town and village centres. The banks have become remote from the communities they are supposed to serve. Many consumers and businesses were the victims of mis-selling scandals involving the banks.
There are worrying signs that the banks need to do a lot more work to get their house in order. An influential group of MPs has said that it receives “frequent and consistent” representations from constituents who are concerned about signature forgeries in court documents involving the banks.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking (APPG) is so alarmed that it has given its formal support to the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign.
To quote the APPG, “this campaign will provide a vital method of gathering evidence of possible signature forgeries by UK banks in court documents”.
The Bank Signature Forgery Campaign is supported by the Yorkshire Tory MP Kevin Hollinrake, who has been alarmed by allegations that business customers have been the victims of forgery.
The campaign is encouraging personal and business customers who have received a bank court document from any UK bank or finance company to send a photo or photocopy of the bank signature, along with the name of the bank, to the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign.
The MPs are also encouraging customers to send in examples of where they feel their signature has been “digitally lifted”.
The APPG believes this problem has a global dimension.
The APPG said: “In the US, all 50 State Attorney Generals have already investigated the industrial-scale forgery of bank signatures on court documents in cases against customers.
“The investigation resulted in penalty payments by US banks of $25 billion and the review of four million court cases by banks against customers.
“The US Department of Justice described the penalty payments as the largest consumer financial protection settlement in United States history.”
The Bank Signature Forgery Campaign is calling for an inquiry by MPs into possible signature forgery by UK banks.
The “frequent” complaints to MPs about allegations of forgery suggest that this inquiry could have plenty of evidence to scrutinise.
The fact that a respected group of MPs is willing to provide a public vote of confidence in this campaign tells you all you need to know about the reputation of the banking sector.
UK Finance, the banking industry’s trade body, said it was still consulting members over this issue.
If the banks wish to emerge from the doghouse, they must provide evidence of tough sanctions being imposed on bankers who fail to behave ethically. They must engage directly with MPs to allay their concerns. Only then can Britain’s financial services sector hold its head high on the global stage.
Captain Mainwaring had many faults, but he was certainly a patriot.