British banks must start treating their customers better, according to FSA managing director Martin Wheatley, who accuses the industry of dragging its feet on issues such as prompt payments processing.
In a speech to the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland, Wheatley says that the watchdog wrote to banks in January to "encourage a more proactive approach" to its conduct regime that covers 'core' payment activities.
Wheatley argues that some are "still not fully engaged" and seems to be just tackling what is pointed out to them, "rather than simply getting on with meeting all of our requirements and delivering what is fair for consumers".
He singles out the requirement to ensure payments reach the payee's account by the end of the following business day, which some banks simply failed to tackle early enough to ensure compliance. "I cannot understand why something as straightforward and helpful to the customer as this, is so hard to do."
Another issue concerning the FSA is the difficulty customers have cancelling recurring payments. The watchdog is now looking at how firms deal with this and "will publicise our findings and our expectations in the summer and take any appropriate action with specific firms".
Wheatley warned the banks that getting these basics right will be increasingly important for them, with his own organisation - and its imminent replacement, the Financial Conduct Authority - "getting more serious" and the EU taking a more active interest in the retail sector. In addition, new players are beginning to enter the market, poised to take advantage of customer disillusionment.
"Banks also need to recognise their customers' increased expectations in a world where people can now, via faster payments, make payments 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Old systems, and the reluctance of some banks to change ways of doing things, are becoming increasingly unacceptable to consumers and to us. If banks do not provide what consumers want, the new entrants might," warns the FSA man.