Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer (top left), National Australia Bank CEO Andrew Thorburn (top right), Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn (bottom left) and ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott (bottom right) leaving the Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry.
Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer (top left), National Australia Bank CEO Andrew Thorburn (top right), Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn (bottom left) and ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott (bottom right) leaving the Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry. JOEL CARRETT, DAVID CROSLING, EL

Banks: the blame is ours to share

THE banks deserve a bashing, but what about us? Did we urge them on?

The lasting test of the banking royal commission won't just be a parade of people heading off to jail, but hopefully a genuine correction in how they do business.

However, that will require a reset on the customer and shareholder side too.

We all know the banks have been out of control for years, but while individually whingeing about it, many people bet their entire future on them making more and more and more money every year.

We all cry foul when we see the crazy fees and charges they come up with, but a huge number of people rely on those fees to pay for the final years of their lives.

The system is out of whack, largely because the banks are listed companies on the stock exchange and that means they have to make more money every year to keep pushing up the share price and giving investors bigger returns.

Over the years, with a country that's only got so many people (thus customers) in it, each of these banks had to find new ways to make money out of the same people.

The simple savings and loans institution starts offering financial planning, wealth management, travel insurance and even buying other banks both here and overseas so they get bigger and bigger. Each year the bottom line grows and "everyone is a winner”.

Well of course, we all know that's not true.

In the pursuit of bigger profits they got sloppy, lazy and, at times, downright greedy.

Offering financial bonuses to staff to get customers to open new accounts, trust the bank with their retirement funds and even start charging people for literally doing nothing.

While I have shared the great gnashing of teeth at the tales that came out of the royal commission, I find myself coming back to a few home truths that I doubt may not be reflected in the commission's final report on Monday.

Is there a cyclical effect of the government forcing almost 10 per cent of workers' pay into superannuation?

I understand why we do it, and we need people to pay for their own retirement.

However, this has seen billions pushed into investments such as bank stocks and does that bring with it tacit approval, even encouragement, to find new ways to make profit out of just 25 million people?

Have we been lazy as customers and not punished banks by taking our money to another bank when they have a better savings or loan offer?

I will freely admit to being one of many who stayed with the bank account you got as a kid in school under the false belief that being a lifelong customer would account for something.

Finally, do we put ourselves under too much pressure, taking too much risk, taking on too much debt on the simple hope that everything goes up if you hang on for long enough?

Have we come to expect the bank to save us from ourselves, and when they don't, it's easier to scream at them than look at our own actions?

Before you think I've turned into a giant lefty over summer, let me assure you, I still am a proponent of profit being good, making a big profit isn't bad, and taking a risk should be rewarded in the long run.

But we have to take moments like these, when the system is so screwed up that it needed a royal commission, to take a moment and ask ourselves some hard questions as we demand hard answers from the big end of town.

Paul Murray is a broadcaster with Sky News. He can be seen on Paul Murray LIVE from 9pm AEDT Sunday to Thursday on Foxtel channel 600 and Sky News on WIN.