Leader: When old-fashioned trust is overwhelmed by greed

MIS-SELLING of complicated financial products to people who are poorly equipped to understand them is one of the worst offences a bank can commit. Not only is it underhand business practice, it undermines the whole basis of trust on which the banking industry, and ultimately the good functioning of the economy, depends.

It is all the more appalling that it is the Bank of Scotland, mostly prior to takeover by Lloyds Banking Group, that has been judged to have been in the wrong. It had an excellent reputation for fair dealing with customers before it merged with the Halifax bank. But the judgment of the Financial Services Authority, expected to lead to the bank having to pay out 17 million in compensation, shows just how far standards slumped.

The FSA has decided the bank could have wrongly dismissed complaints from more than 8,000 customers, many of them elderly, who they had been wrongly sold investment products where the average sum entrusted was between 20,000 and 30,000, small beer to a big bank perhaps, but huge sums to individuals.

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This is dreadful evidence of how far a disreputable culture - the desire by bank salesman to make a sale, probably to meet targets and earn a bonus, regardless of whether the product was suitable to the poor dupe - had submerged proper banking practice of looking after customers' interest. Bank of Scotland apologised yesterday. That is a start. But banks, all banks, must go further by proving that these days of excess have now gone forever.