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Unimpressive banker's code a throw-back to the bad old days

You probably haven't heard of the Code of Banking Practice. I'm not surprised.

But the proposed version tells you a lot about the nature of our banks, which are an unavoidable part of all our lives.

The current code is a set of pledges banks make about how they will behave towards customers, though the code, created by the Bankers Association club of banks, is not binding in a court of law.

The code is a throw-back to the dark days of financial services industry "self regulation".

As a country we became so collectively sickened by failures of financial services companies to do the right thing, we wrote proper laws ending the self-regulation experiment.

So what does the Bankers Association's draft code say, and do we need it?

The draft code promises you, the bank customer, five things.

One: To treat customers fairly and reasonably. Okay, but what do fairly and reasonably mean?

"What may be fair and reasonable in any case will depend on the circumstances, including our conduct and yours, what our terms and conditions say, what the law says, and good banking practice," the code says.

Translation: We can do what the law allows, what other banks do, and what bank contracts say we can do.

If you miss a mortgage payment, is it fair and reasonable for the bank to demand full immediate repayment? Yes, according to the code.

If you get into trouble with your credit card, is it fair and reasonable for your bank to sell your debt to a debt collector? Again, yes, according to the code.

Two: To communicate with you clearly and effectively.

Okay, the law requires this of financial service providers, but just read the terms and conditions on a credit card or mortgage, and tell me if you think more than half your fellow country people could understand them.

Three: To respect your privacy and confidentiality and keep our banking systems secure.

Yes, that's the Privacy Act, and a host of other laws.

What does secure mean? Well, this: "We will keep your information and the ways you bank with us as secure as we can."

As we can? Drop the last three words, please. They frighten me.

Four: To act responsibly if we offer or provide you with credit.

Again, this is required by law. It is redundant.

Five: To deal effectively with your concerns and complaints.

This includes dealing with them quickly. Good, something of value at last.

Look, here's the truth about banks.

They are powerful professional entities with an insatiable desire for profit for their shareholders and senior executives.

The draft code tells us, the little people, what to expect from banks.

I didn't find it very inspiring.

Had it promised simply that banks would behave fairly, ethically and reasonably towards customers, and let the courts decide in each case what that meant, we'd have a step forward in consumer protection.

GOLDEN RULES

Read your bank contracts and terms and conditions

Take your responsibilities seriously

Or suffer the consequences

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