Bashing City bankers has unintended consequences for middle England

Anthony Browne
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I HOPE, dear CityA.M. reader, that you occasionally manage to unchain yourself from your desk, rip yourself away from the trading floor, and escape from the shadows of the towers of Canary Wharf and the Square Mile. Because – and I hope this won’t come as a total shock to you – there is a banking industry outside the centre of London.

These giants of exporting have created thousands of jobs across the UK – Citi works out of Belfast, Morgan Stanley has divisions in Glasgow and JP Morgan in Bournemouth. But numerically more significant are the people who keep the networks of banks – large, challenging and small – operating across the kingdom. Of the 452,000 people employed directly in banking, a full 312,900 work outside of London.

These are the cashiers paying in your cheques, the currency dealers selling you euros, and the relationship managers helping small businesses. It is worth asking, when people relish a good bashing of the City, what the broader impact is on the banking equivalent of middle England or France profonde.

The frontline staff feel the full force of public ire over bailouts and bonuses. Bank employees who used to be proud of their jobs now get hurled abuse by customers. Pillars of the community are turned into pariahs. Old Bob the banker has 30 years good service. But the payment protection insurance scandal, and its subsequent feeding frenzy, has marked him as someone who deliberately miss-sold to Auntie Maude, trashing his reputation among his neighbours. The clamp down on bonuses across the entire industry has also hit front line retail staff far harder than the Ferrari-buying classes.

The retail distribution review, due to come into force at the beginning of next year, bans commission payments to financial advisers. As a result, banks have been forced to withdraw from offering financial advice, leading to tens of thousands of advisers losing their jobs – and whole swathes of the population no longer getting the help they need. This is neither good for the economy, good for workers, or good for the financially disadvantaged.

Bashing City bankers might be good fun for some, but there are often unintended consequences that many would agree are unpleasant.

City slickers may not generate sympathy in the current climate, but they are just a small part of the banking industry. When a whole sector is shrinking in size and under pressure from politicians and the media, it can be very uncomfortable for those that work inside it. Trust and confidence needs to be restored to banking – but so does pride.

Anthony Browne is the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association.