Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Banks on Commission

This evening on the Six O'Clock News you might have seen our example of an 83 year old widow who lost £40,000. It was when a supposedly cautious and low risk fund sold to her by Barclays plummeted during the financial crisis.
A Barclays sales person came to her sheltered apartment to sell her the investment. It was to be a safe home for the money she'd inherited from her late husband.
The lady was one of 12,000 who had been persuaded to sink their savings in one of two funds provided by Aviva. The Financial Services Authority found that there were so many failings in this sales strategy that Barclays deserved a £7m fine. And the bank would have to pay £60m in compensation to customers.
One extra fact stands out. Barclays received up front commission from Aviva of up to 4.5%. That is, 4.5 pence for every pound invested. Plus 1% each year thereafter. No wonder the sales reps, who knew little about what they were selling, were encouraged to push this stuff to widows and anyone else.
It reminds me of the UK victims of the Lehmans collapse, small investors who had been sold supposedly guaranteed investments by respected British banks. They weren't wealthy. They were ordinary people who had a redundancy payment, a legacy, or their life savings to salt away.
One victim, who was sold a £200,000 Lehmans-backed structured bond, was told by a bank "financial adviser" that the bond was as safe as a bank account. The money disappeared when Lehmans collapsed.
His bank was Lloyds, which earned a 6% commission for selling the bond. After Lloyds was shamed on the BBC, the money was paid back.
But the point is made. Commission corrupts. Banks have been selling stockmarket-linked investments to trusting customers in order to earn the commission. The salespeople or "advisers" don't even know what they have been selling. They're given a list by their bosses.
Let's hope they have learnt their lesson.

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