The government believes that competition drives innovation, lower prices and better service. They run a Competition Authority to encourage and enforce more of it. They are even trying to introduce it gently into public service areas that have not enjoyed much of it, like water and healthcare.
When it comes to banking, an area where we are meant to be world leaders, we have precious little competition. We have four main banks. Two of those have substantial taxpayer shareholdings, and have received collosal amounts of taxpayers money to keep them going. British industry and wider business spends much of their time complaining that these banks do not give them the service they need, the loans they require or the prices they can afford. The banks have been heavily regulated, but not in a way which stopped two of them getting into financial difficulty. Today they are heavily regulated in a way which limits their ability to lend more to fuel a faster economic recovery.
The banking industry needs a substantial dose of competition. That would raise its service levels, get it back into friendlier contact with the wider business community, and lead to innovative offers. There is considerable thought going on in Parliament about just how this can be done.
I am not going to repeat the details of my proposed split up of RBS that has appeared on this site before. We could create say three sound competing banks out of RBS and sell them to the private sector. Dr Cable has emerged as a supporter of an RBS break-up, though he wants a different version from mine. There is one additional advantage from this scheme that I have not mentioned before before. The new banks need not take with them any of the accumulated tax losses. From the first day they make an overall profit they would then contribute tax revenue to the government, a welcome improvement on the current position where the weak banks are unlikely to pay tax for several years.
Andrea Leadsom is proposing that each UK clearing bank be required to establish full bank account portability. Everyone’s bank account under this scheme would rest with the current bank in a way which allowed the whole account with all its Direct Debits , income and spending arrangements to stay in place and to be transferred as a working whole to a new bank when you wish to switch. Such a system of bank account portability would tackle one of the main reasons why many people today do not move their accounts, because they fear all the complications of having to set up everything again from scratch.
Several of us are proposing that the barriers for entry into banking be lowered. Some who have looked into the possibility of setting up a new small bank have been put off by the very high costs imposed by regulators before they can get started. If you have to construct a unique banking model at great expense, have to hire staff and Directors and establish premises before you can gain a licence it is a large barrier to entry which only the very rich and persistent will overcome. It appears to be too difficult and too costly to get a banking licence in the UK, protecting the incumbents more than is desirable.