Ah yes, the banks. They weren’t in the front line when the crisis began, but it wasn’t going to be long before they came in for a kicking. Sure enough, they’ve just had one for throwing bureaucratic hurdles and demands for personal guarantees in the way of the government’s business interruption loan scheme and for resisting a Bank of England directive to cancel £7.5 billion of dividends to shareholders, cash that would be better used to bolster reserves against a coming tide of bad debts. They backed down on both issues but, disliked and distrusted as they have been since 2008, they’ll always be a target for snipers — and bank bosses need to remember two things.
Firstly, we are seeing remarkable examples of ‘just get it done’ in the NHS with military help, in HMRC and even in the Department for Work and Pensions, which has registered a million new universal credit claimants.
Banks — indeed all essential consumer-facing businesses — have to show the same eagerness to cut the crap and act fast for the general good. Secondly, banks have the certainty of knowing they will be bailed out again if necessary, because governments realised in 2008 that systemic financial collapse would lead straight to riots. With that safety net — as yet not offered to other sectors that look far more fragile in the short term — banks have no excuse not to do their absolute utmost to help.