CHARLES GRAHAM - The rise and fall of the British banks

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MY grandfather was a bank manager.

Scarily strict, he was about as archetypally upstanding a citizen as you could imagine. A real pillar of society to whom folk would doff their hats.

Were he still alive today, I can only imagine what his reaction would be to the constant stream of horror stories which have conspired to blacken the name of his profession. No doubt many of his successors are cringing too because there is no question that the vast majority of people in the banking industry are decent folk.

But bankers have been in many people’s black books for several years now after being at least partly to blame for the global crash.

Then, to make matters worse, the big bosses respond to being bailed out to the tune of billions by the British taxpayer by continuing to award themselves obscene bonuses. Meanwhile they are accused of failing to give loans to businesses in the manner and quantity that has been expected of them since the rescue deals, so preventing private industry from re-starting the economy.

Let’s not forget Fred the Shred’s enormous pension pot which further caused hackles to rise.

And now we have Barclays hit with a whopping fine for interest rate fixing.

It has precipitated several resignations and sackings, but on the scale of all the problems in the industry it is a bit of a sticking plaster for a huge and gaping wound. Only time will tell whether the promised inquiry will bring about a root and branch change to a high risk, high reward culture that sometimes verges on the criminal.

I know these condemnations would have more clout from someone other than a journalist; after all our industry is hardly in a lofty moral place to judge other sectors at present, given the lurid headlines coming out of the Leveson inquiry.

But I am only voicing what other folk are saying in large numbers.

In Wigan the other day, there was a further embarrassment when Standish bank manager Paul Buck was jailed. The former boss of Santander’s Preston town centre branch admitted stealing a massive £434,000 from an elderly client while acting as his financial adviser, having turned to crime when he racked up huge gambling debts.

The sector does have its defenders though. I was at a launch event for this year’s Wigan Business Awards the other day and heard a bit of grumbling about far too much negative publicity for banks, the BBC’s rollercoaster-voiced correspondent Robert Peston coming in for special attention for “stirring things up” and adding to the country’s economic woes.

I was also told it was a myth that banks aren’t giving loans to businesses and there was much talk of not tarring everyone with the same brush.

One can say the same thing about reporters too. But given all the accurate and damning stories about banks and bankers coming out at the moment, it’s no real surprise that they aren’t many people’s favourite profession at the moment. Even the usually reserved governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has been letting rip.

Grandpa would be spinning in his grave.