We gave the banks a clean slate - shouldn't every taxpayer in the UK be given one too?
All the UK banks would have collapsed - literally gone bankrupt - if the taxpayers of the UK had not saved them from that fate. In terms of their credit rating, they would not actually exist to have one. For most people this would mean a zero credit rating for the next 6 years.
Perhaps, in return, the credit reference agencies should be instructed to give every individual taxpayer and tax-paying business in the UK a perfect 100 credit rating in return? Clean Slate for a Clean slate? We gave the banks a second chance, let's give the people who literally paid to give it them a second chance, too.
We continue to pay the banks, and continue to guarantee their assets and provide them liquidity to this day. We will do so in one way or another for much of the next 5 years or more. A Pro for the Quid to every taxpayer would reflect the reality of what's happened after the great banking bail out.
HSBC and Barclays try to present themselves as above all the bail-out: they survived without government aid, didn't they? In fact they didn't.
Firstly, as far as I know at the height of the crisis, and since, they took part (in the UK context, at least) in the Bank of England's Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS) drawdown and its Discount Window Facility (DWF) which effectively allowed the UK banks to lend to and borrow from each other overnight and assisted, and continues to assist, crucial liquidity at a very difficult time.
I'd like to know how HSBC and Barclays would have coped without that in the UK. I believe that from HSBC's point of view they might have had to dump the UK operation, the international parts certainly wouldn't have bailed it out themselves.
Barclays came up with a Middle-Eastern sovereign sugar daddy to ensure that they could still pay themselves bonuses at financial year end, whereas without doubt the best interests of the shareholders (never mind customers and ordinary employees) would have been to accept government intervention.
Barclays and HSBC were simply lucky. Barclays, indeed, might still, I believe, have to take part in the government's (i.e. the taxpayers') present or future asset guarantee/protection schemes.
Secondly, had we allowed Lloyds/HBOS and RBS/NatWest simply to collapse overnight - the impact on Barclays and HSBC would have been pretty catastrophic. They would not have survived.
Under an alternative scenario to what the government did, in order to avoid the 'moral hazard' implications which now exist of having bailed out the banks, the banks could have been allowed to fail. They could have been replaced by a series of temporary or permanent state-run banks at national, european, international or regional level with different financial and banking functions providing the levels of liquidity and capital in the UK economy that were needed to enable the economy to function.
I'm not suggesting that would have been the correct path, all I am saying is that the banks should not pretend that there was no practical, theoretical or political alternative.
So, all of the banks owe the taxpayers of the UK a debt of gratitude. The fact is, as we all know, they remain in denial that we saved their sorry assets and continue to stalk the financial highways and byways (some of them still zombie-like) like nothing has happened. Experience of individuals and businesses are that they are still pretending that they are cut above the rest of us individuals and businesses, simply behaving as they did before: setting themselves up as supreme arbiters of creditworthiness and business solvency.
One of the earliest identified quid pro quos for the bailouts as far back as last October was that the banks would maintain 'over the next three years, the availability and active marketing of competitively-priced lending to homeowners and to small businesses at 2007 levels'. That has not yet happened by any stretch of the imagination because the banks are stunned and navel-gazing, looking inwards at their own structures and survival and are denying what was contractually promised to businesses and individuals . The government has accepted that these kinds of failures could be breaches of contract of the bailouts' terms and conditions and are actionable as such.
We all know that the bankers are not delivering on the deal to businesses first and foremost.
If we all had a perfect credit record, slate wiped clean from tomorrow, what would the effect be? Well, just as I suggested with shutting down the international ratings agencies in my last blog, it would make the credit reference agencies and their records pretty irrelevant.
The banks would actually have to work for their money and make proper and exhaustive enquiries, which they should do anyway. Instead of paying unskilled clerical functionaries to click a button and tell us that 'the computer says no' they might have to use some professional judgement. They might, indeed, have to employ properly qualified bankers and professionals on the ground - you know, actual bank managers in actual branches - and carry out appropriate actual enquiries and make professional decisions like they used to.
It wouldn't mean the banks handing out cash to bankrupts (even though that's what we did to them!) or handing money to people who cannot cope with credit. It just means that the current imperfect system would not replace proper banking practices and procedures.
These dispappeared precisely because the banks effectively clubbed together to come up with an easy-to-use, easy-to-administer and employ clerical staff for, supposedly idiot-proof and (most importantly) quick system. In fact, they wanted an instant one. As anyone who has ever bothered to view these records in private companies' hands knows, it often draws on inaccurate, out-of-date, irrelevant records of financial and credit transactions going years back. They are provided by a few private credit reference companies with extremely light-touch regulation. The banks and retailers came up with a system which suited them day to day, not the consumer, never mind the citizen.
Indeed, after the effects on individuals and businesses of this recession so far and that to come, there might be very few people and businesses under the current credit reference system that the banks could lend to at all! I suspect that is what is at the heart of the current problem. The Observer reported at the weekend that mortgage applications are being turned down for a single missed credit card payment - it's a handy excuse not to lend.
So the current credit reference agency system is no longer fit for pupose in any event in these completely changed economic times. Perhaps it is time anyway for a complete overhaul of these pretty much unaccountable private firms running the credit reference show. As with the international rating agencies the system, if needed at all, should be heavily regulated, and perhaps be part of a not-for-profit agency. Although I'd want it pretty much arms-length from government.
Much of the problem was and is a reliance by the banks and the retailers (who could by-pass the banks) on the ridiculous system of credit scoring tied to the arcane, inaccurate and very dodgy dossiers of financial and credit transactions and which daily lead to inexplicable credit decisions. The quixotic and unpredictable practices at its heart leave branded as 'unlendable- to' those individuals and businesses with no history of credit but actually very credit-worthy, start-ups, young people and old people, and those who simply play the field to get a good deal and find 100s of searches against their names.
As I said in the last blog with regard to international ratings, a more slowed-down system, with grit in the wheels, is actually a better system in any event. Isn't the instantaneous credit system (and the credit reference agencies that came with it) part of what got us all into this mess in the first place?
So let's rip up the credit reference book and start again. The grateful humility from the banks that most businesses and individuals would have and should have expected should involve a fresh new start for all of us!