There are several interesting stories criticising banks and credit card companies in the news today. First, the Bank of England governor criticised high street banks for not issuing £5 notes through cash machines. Mervyn King is quoted as saying:
“Such mutual convenience is a public good, and may not correspond to the private interest of commercial banks.”
Secondly, the banks have taken over responsibility for reporting credit card fraud to the police. Although the banks claim not to have asked for a recent change in the law, they are criticised for hiding the true extent of the crime owing to a vested interest.
The third story relates to moves by Barclaycard (and other card providers) to reduce the minimum required monthly fees, which is marketed as a benefit, whilst actually causing many people to get into greater debt.
Perhaps given the scale of the industry, it is not unusual to see such negative stories in the media. But it does make you wonder about their strategies with regard to public relations. There is little evidence of any recognition of mutual interersts or corporate social responsibility in these policies.
However, each of the major banks boasts of a CSR strategy. For example, Barclays wants to be leaders, not followers in CSR. HSBC is active in climate change partnerships and promotes “sustainable banking”. HBOS expresses a commitment to stakeholders through its standards and values.
I’m not disputing the investment and recognition of the value of CSR in the financial institutions – but there seems to be a conflict here between lots of good initiatives and business practices that lead to public criticisms.
It is likely that those responsible for managing and communicating such CSR programmes are separate to the “sharp-end” press officers responding to the media criticism.
Does this matter? After all, doesn’t society benefit from all the actions being undertaken under the CSR banner? Is it realistic to expect commercial organisations to act in the interests of the public when conducting their business activities?