When I read about the steps the banks are taking to maintain their oligopolistic profits – staff cuts and fee increases – I feel a little like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.
"Sir, I hold some of your bonds and am a shareholder, so I want you to do well, but as a customer, can I please benefit, just a little, from all your wonderful efficiencies. Please sir, I want more."
I'm hard on the banks because at times they deserve it, and because nobody else is able to say anything. After all, 80% of the wealth management industry is owned by the banks and most of the other 20% is beholden to them for services and distribution (Note: RBC is our corporate banker and our funds are held in custody by RBC). And the media can't take a hard line because the banks are among the biggest advertisers in the country.
But we need to be more like little Oliver. We need to ask more questions of the banks. Shouldn't Canadians benefit from the scale of the Canadian banks? Shouldn't their investment fees be hard to beat? Why are the banks jerking investors around for the sake of efficiency and not sharing in the spoils? Shouldn't their spreads on currency exchange be the narrowest? Shouldn't their ATM fees be a fraction of what the credit unions and PC Financial are?
Why aren't Canadians benefiting from our successful banking industry? Well, it's obvious I guess – it's a government-protected oligopoly. Last year, the Big Six made $35 billion in profit. Yes, $1,000 of profit for every man, woman and child in Canada.
"Please sir, we want just a little of that. Please."