Taking Stock / Where are the clients' yachts?
Many questions are arising, and the Finance Committee debate is a lively one. But one question is not arising there, at least not yet. Where are the customers' yachts?
An old Wall Street chestnut (and a book) tells the tale of a visitor at the offices, brokerage houses and investment banks at the southern end of Manhattan, to see the world's most famous securities industry in action.
He ends his tour at Battery Park, where his hosts point at yachts anchored by the dock. This one belongs to that banker, this one to a trader, that one to an investment banker, they proudly relate. Great. But: "Where are the customers' yachts?" the tourist asks.
These days, the Knesset Finance Committee is busy putting the final touches to the Bachar Committee recommendations, or rather, introducing the changes the parliamentarians see fit.
They are worrying about: How can insurance agents be protected? How can the smaller banks be compensated? What goodwill gesture can be made toward the big banks? How can the whole process be delayed? How can it be carried out without causing shocks?
Many questions are arising, and the Finance Committee debate is a lively one. For a moment, one might think its members are actually delving into the reform's details.
But one question is not arising there, at least not yet. Where are the customers' yachts?
Or in English, where are the interests of the customers, depositors, savers, insurance buyers, investors, and borrowers in this story?
l How can insurance agents be protected? The Knesset members ask time and again. Of all the pressure groups, the ones the good people at parliament fear the most are the insurance agents. They may well be the most highly represented group at the parties' central committees; or maybe it's simply because there are so many of them. Whatever the reason, the Knesset members have some kind of obsession with them.
What the Knesset members aren't asking is: Who do the insurance agents represent: the customer, the insurance company or themselves? How could it be that hundreds of thousands of people bought insurance policies that bled them dry, and to this day, they don't really understand the financial catastrophe they face when they retire? Isn't it time for the citizens of Israel to receive real advice on insurance matters?
l What about the livelihood of the bank workers? Indeed, what about the hundreds of bank workers who clustered at the entrance to the Exhibition Grounds Thursday, where the Knesset Finance Committee was convening. Their purpose was to remind the parliamentarians of their clout and power inside the political parties and unions. It works on the Knesset members, many of whom were induced to ask about the bank workers' fate.
Now, the number of workers engaged in managing provident and mutual funds for the banks are a few dozen, of whom the best easily will find work at the funds' new owners. If anything, they're likely to get paid better.
Instead of obsessing over a handful of workers, or the prestige and power of am even smaller handful of bankers, the Knesset members would do better to ask themselves how they halt the flood of capitulations to the banks over distribution fees, capitulations that strengthen the banks and weaken competition and cost the customers more and more.
l What goodwill gesture can be made toward the big banks? There seems to be a consensus that anybody showing up at the Knesset Finance Committee debates should be given a nice present. Why? Because he has access to the Knesset Finance Committee in the first place; he's part of the debate and has two powerful lobbyists, three PR agents, two spokespeople and 100 friends and colleagues in the party centers.
What about the customers who never received a shred of objective advice, only marketing disguised as consultation? What about the customers who pay high interest rates and get low ones in return, the result of a degenerated, weak capital market controled by the two big banks? How can these customers be assured of proper, dramatic and also rapid reform - a reform that won't be picked to pieces through "compensation" to each and every pressure group in town, or postponed ad infinitum, just to give the banks more opportunity to crush it entirely at their leisure?