Rule Sieze the day! Move your bank account.

One last small stand, on principle
Why, after more than 40 years as customers of RBS, a London couple felt obliged to change their bank.



Ken and Marie Burnett, Royal Bank customers since 1970, have just moved their business and personal accounts to another bank,
as a protest.

Blog 26 February 2012

At the news this week that the still massively loss-making publicly owned Royal Bank of Scotland is nevertheless to pay its senior elite mega-bonuses totaling £785 million, we decided it was time to go.

Our letter to RBS, below, explains why.

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To move your bank accounts to the Co-op Bank click here. We don’t recommend them specifically and changing is probably just as easy with any other bank.

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Every right-thinking person in Britain and around the world is shamed and revolted by the greedy, self-serving bankers and their hollow justifications exposed in the latest round of bankers’ pay and bonus announcements. The only action we mere bank customers can take is to take our business elsewhere.

So that’s just what we did. It’s inconvenient, but not difficult. And it feels great once you’ve done it. We felt we have to protest in every way we can. Otherwise Burke is right, evil triumphs. If we as customers of these banks don’t forcefully show our disapproval, how will public revulsion ever mount to the tidal wave that will be needed to stop these people?

It’s a small gesture for the kind of a society we want to live in.


Surely we have to become the kind of society that
says, what’s the point of a massive salary and bonus
if your children are ashamed of you?


To appreciate why the children of these bankers will, when they grasp the true situation, be ashamed of their greedy parents, consider the arguments put forward to justify the huge salaries and bonuses bankers and others vote for themselves and their cronies (often dozens and even hundreds of times the average pay of their fellow workers).

They do a really difficult job.

No they don’t. Not particularly. I was a banker once. It’s just a job, like any other. Quantum physicists and headmasters do difficult jobs. Neurosurgeons, lifeboatmen and high court judges do difficult jobs. None of these assume they’re entitled to salaries 50 or 100 times their managers or staff (who probably do most of the real work). Some bankers do a difficult job, sure. Pay them well, of course. But not excessively. Not at everyone else’s expense.

The difference is, bankers sit on top of piles of other people’s money. Since Thatcher, Blair and Brown removed all regulation they’ve got used to helping themselves from these seeming riches, without restraint. Of course, the people who allowed this are as much to blame.

They have to make difficult decisions.

Like buying ABN Amro Bank. Or mis-selling payment protection insurance. Or investing in the US sub-prime market. And so on. However colossally bad these decisions turn out to be, the bonuses are still taken as if they were a right.

Bankers do really important jobs. They need to be paid shed-loads, and then some more, so they can attract the best.

This seems to imply that cabinet ministers do much less important work. And prime ministers. And the head of the Civil Service. The top guy in air traffic control also does an important job, as do his staff. So do brain surgeons and air ambulance pilots – really important jobs. Same with architects, newspaper editors and civil engineers. And...

We want to recruit the best for all these jobs. Top bankers are not worth hundreds of times more than what top nurses, teachers and social workers are paid for the long, hard, important work they do.

If we don’t pay them vast bonuses on top of their vast salaries, they’ll leave.

Personally if they did I’m sure they’d be no great loss. But they won’t leave. They don’t want to live in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. In Germany, where there are sensible, much fairer earning differentials, their bankers don’t make a beeline for Britain. Are German people more loyal than British? Or just less selfish? Fairer salaries may make German banks more competitive than British, and help them attract funds at the City's expense.

Those that go would be easy to replace. With better people.

Introducing fairer salary structures will irreversibly damage the world’s image of the City of London.

Is the idea that people like to line up to look at rich bankers just as they like to look at the Queen and her family? Really, this is dredging the barrel, almost as daft as imagining fat cat bankers as role models for tomorrow’s youth, inspiring future generations...

Try any of the above arguments on a reasonably intelligent 12-year-old and he or she will quickly see through the fabrications the bankers have spun to justify their avarice. The only reason they pay themselves these sums is because they can. Because no one has stopped them. Better late than never, a few politicians are now repeating what many of the public have been saying for some time.

  • Pay bonuses only after achievement. Reasonable bonuses, of course.
  • Bring back sensible regulation. Reduce the unfairness of simply taking everything you can by introducing practical safeguards, making it impossible for people to set their own or their friends’ remuneration; in effect, to help themselves.
  • Encourage a system such as in the John Lewis Partnership, where no one is paid more than a reasonable multiple of the earnings of the lowest paid employee. This still gives some handsome top salaries plus a shared sense of being in it together. No one objects to paying high achievers well and rewarding exceptional results. But a bonus is meant to be some cream on the top. Not enough to buy a whole creamery.
  • Full transparency and accountability on bosses’ remuneration for all to see, to prevent anyone from enriching themselves at the expense of their fellows.

We live in a country that, thanks in no small measure to the reckless mismanagement of these same bankers, is obliged right now to cut the salaries of its public workers, reduce health and welfare services and scrap basic essentials to the poorest and the most needy. Yet in the last three decades in Britain the rich have got massively richer and the poor proportionately much poorer, so that now we have returned to a social divide similar to the chasm that stood between the aristocracy and the masses at the turn of the 1900s.

And the country has not yet begun to be repaid for the risk it took in bailing out the banks, at the cost of £billions. This, rather obviously, is no time for bankers’ bonuses.

Aside from the arguments for morality and fairness and the rejection of greed and self-serving there’s another overriding reason for changing this paradigm fundamentally, now. Quite simply, the fabric of our society is at risk if we don’t. There’s now real danger of serious unrest, or worse. Far from inconceivable, protests and even riots in our streets seem likely to be an increasing feature of our lives, unless our society vigorously addresses all its unfairness issues. An unequal society is an unhappy society. When our society becomes fairer for all, everyone – except perhaps the few who deserve to be disappointed – will be very much happier and more contented.

Please, let’s all push for this one fundamental, achievable change in our society.

You can start by changing your bank. It’s a really good feeling, when you do.

© Ken Burnett 2012





The standard British reaction to corruption in high places is embarassment or to make jokes about it, perhaps because British people are tolerant, don't like to make a fuss and are slow to anger. This may be changing.

Click on the letter pages to download a rather grainy but readable pdf.

From this article: a result! 27 February 2012

Dear Ken & Marie,

I have read with interest your post on moving your bank accounts from the Royal Bank of Scotland and your reasons why. As my friends in the antipodes say ‘Good on you!’

One person moving their account may mean little, like a single gnat. But how we hate swarms!

Inspired by your move, my wife and I just closed two accounts with Bank of America (who I have been associated with since 1978) BoA is one of the megalithic financial institutions of the world and has recently started charging savings and checking account clients a monthly fee to 'house' their money. We are working to move our mortgage to a non-profit Credit Union. I like the fact that I get a vote in choosing the leadership of a credit union. I have virtually no say in an institution like BoA.

Thank you for leading and inspiring.

GregRobin Smith, Seattle, Washington State.


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Ken and Marie Burnett started a marketing and communications agency in the early 1980s that grew to employ around 100 people. RBS then was a very attentive bank. The business was sold in 1999, after which the pair became noticeably less important as customers. They now have a small specialist publishing business which employs no one and, as Ken says, is ‘a bit like having a large hole in the back garden that from time to time we throw money into’.

Ken has written several books on a variety of themes and blogs occasionally on issues to do with fundraising, marketing, communication and natural history. Ken wrote this article. His books can be seen here and current blogs can be accessed here.