Britain targets technology to break banking dominance - Osborne

LONDON Mon Feb 4, 2013 12:49pm EST

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LONDON Feb 4 (Reuters) - Britain's finance minister George Osborne said on Monday the government will present detailed proposals to open up the country's bank payments system and reduce the "big four" dominance of high street banking.

Questioning why it takes days for cheques or credit payments to go through in an age of instant communication, Osborne said,

"We will make sure that new players in the market can access these systems in a fair and transparent way."

He is expected to launch a consultation in the spring, government sources said.

His comments, in a speech on banking reform, signal a step-change in the government's drive to move banks' payment systems away from self-regulation after public trust collapsed following scandals such as mis-selling loan insurance and rigging the Libor benchmark.

Bank of England director of financial stability, Andrew Haldane, has called for a single platform to make it easier for people to switch accounts and new entrants to set up shop.

The payments system is owned and run by HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds, representing 75 percent of personal accounts, a set-up the government feels lacks incentives to invest in better services for customers.

Metro Bank, launched in 2010, is first new high street lender in more than a century. It, along with others like Virgin Money and Aldemore, have yet to win significant market share.

New entrants must ask an existing lender for access to the payments system.

"Asking your rival to provide you with the essential services you need at a reasonable price is not a recipe for success," Osborne said.

He also confirmed that from September, every banking customer will be able to switch their account within seven days.

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