Eddie's Parting Slap at the Checkout; FMAIL

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 25, 1997 | Go to article overview

Eddie's Parting Slap at the Checkout; FMAIL


Byline: WILLIAM KAY

EDDIE George, governor

of the Bank of England, may have lost his right to tell banks what to do, but last week he fired off one last imperious shot.

What is possibly the Bank's last annual report on the Banking Act turns to supermarkets' moves into banking.

It says: `Supervisors must ensure that the different business ethic in supermarkets does not result in any diminution of the `know your customer' checks, or those on money laundering, and that the normal focus on credit aspects of a banking business is maintained.'

When the Bank refers to the supermarkets' `different' business ethics it is not hinting that their ethics are superior to banks'. Quite the contrary, I suspect.

The reference to the supermarkets' allegedly looser `know your customer' checks is a slap in the face to an industry that has prided itself on the intimacy with which it has come to know its customers in recent years.

And just to rub their noses firmly into the insult, the Bank blithely throws in money laundering.

There have been dark tales about criminals' money being washed through supermarket bank accounts - turning ill-gotten gains into cans of beans, so to speak - but this is a rare public airing of such practices.

The message could not be much clearer: As far as the Bank of England is concerned, supermarkets are wading into a big boys' game and had better mind their manners. I am sure Howard Davies will put it more tactfully when he takes over as head of the souped-up Securities and Investments Board, but he will be no less vigilant.

It is really only the banks' complacency and hubris that has let the supermarkets encroach. But I begin to detect some of that attitude transferring itself to the supermarkets.

They give the impression of thinking they can do no wrong. And that is the very moment they are liable to fall into an elephant trap.

MEMO to Martin Taylor, chief executive, Barclays Bank: Congratulations on becoming chairman of the new Whitehall Task Force looking into tax and benefits.

I expect Tony has pencilled in your gong for the Millennium Honours List.

It is nice to know that you reckon Barclays is running so smoothly that you can afford to make being chief executive a part-time job.

But there are still one or two files in your pending tray. BZW needs sorting or selling. A US securities house would snap it up if only you can sweet-talk Bill Harrison, BZW's rebellious chief executive. …

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