Given the unprecedented support our financial institutions have received from the public purse, it is vital they recognise their obligations to society– whose taxes, jobs and livelihoods have been put at risk by their greed.
We believe that all people should have equal access to routine financial services and credit within their means. Banks should no longer merely be able to cherry pick the most profitable customers and they must ensure that their operations serve every part of the community equally.
The Government should introduce a Financial Inclusion Act, along the lines of the Community Reinvestment Act in the USA. This would ensure that all financial organisations must engage with, design services for, and invest in people from all geographical areas and income levels. This would require banks to ensure that:
- All their delivery systems are readily accessible to geographic areas and individuals of different income levels within their area of business.
- Changes have been made that have improved the accessibility of its delivery systems to low to moderate income areas and individuals.
- Services are tailored to the convenience and needs of those that it is required to serve.
Financially vulnerable households have been disproportionately affected by rising household utility and food bills, making it difficult to build up a savings cushion to protect themselves against the recession. Many lower income households do not have the option of saving for the future and have no choice but to borrow to maintain an acceptable standard of living. At the same time the withdrawal of credit from small businesses is making it more and more difficult for them to keep their head above water. This is not a question of making cheap and easy credit available to fuel a consumer society; financially excluded household and businesses need access to fair, affordable credit to survive. Given that society stepped in to rescue the failing financial sector, it is now time for banks to recognise their social responsibilities.