Single, Baby-faced and the Little Man

Single, blue eyes and baby face, with terrific job, seeks - no, not a relationship. He doesn't have the time for that now.

Insurance and capital markets commissioner Yadin Antebi works 14 hours a day, six days a week. The only relationship he's involved in, is the Sisyphean one between banks and their customers in Israel.

Many nasty things came to light about that relationship in the last year. For instance, it turns out that the relationship is 100% one-sided: the banks wield absolute rule over the public. With a word they can make the public sell tens of billions worth of assets in mutual funds, for example.

It also turned out that the public feels captive in the relationship. The banks can worsen its terms of engagement with their customers, they can raise their fees, and the public meekly accepts all on its knees.

In the last year, it turns out, the Bachar reform of the capital markets managed to shatter the banks' monopoly over managing the public's investments. It managed to break the iron grip the banks had over lending to corporate Israel, too. A flourishing market of institutionals lending as alternatives to banks has developed.

But the reform utterly failed at breaking the banks' third great monopoly: its rule over household customers. There is no competition between the banks over the little man.

However young and fresh-faced Antebi may be -

  - he aims high. He wants to shatter that monopoly too. He is trying, on his lonesome, to achieve what the Bachar reform failed to do: to create competition between the banks over households. He wants to create incentives for the customers of the big banks to check out the small banks too.

How? Because only the small banks provide advice on pensions, at present. The small banks are being given that privilege, of selling advice, before the big banks, to give them a helping hand in attracting customers from the big banks by offering additional services at competitive prices.

Antebi in short hopes to succeed where the great Bachar reform failed: competition over you between the banks.

But do they really want you?

For that to happen, the small banks have to work hard. Specifically, they have to strain themselves to genuinely compete.

They have to offer much sweeter deals than the big banks do, for the public to bother itself to abandon the big banks, which do provide a comfy, padded cage for their captives, who are therefore in no hurry to leave that dungeon despite the high price they pay for the privilege of being in it.

This is probably the last possible chance to institute interbank competition over you, after the Bachar flop.

But Antebi can't do it alone. The chairman of the Israel Securities Authority, Moshe Tery, already declared this week that he supports the initiative, but that is not enough. Without the support of the finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, and even more importantly the backing of Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, the mission "discriminate between the banks in order to create competition" is doomed.