Secours catholique has submitted to the government a project to combat bank exclusion

The Banque de France and the Elysée have welcomed such a scheme.

Will France adopt a law against banking exclusion, one of the most pernicious forms of social exclusion? In the midst of the economic crisis, as banks tighten the conditions for access to credit by “at risk” customers (unemployed, RMIste, temporary workers, fixed-term contracts, low-income …), the issue is debated at the top of the state. The stake is important. If 98.5% of the population has a bank account, several million people, though solvent, are excluded from many banking services, including credit, or have limited use.

A project still secret, designed by Secours Catholique, and supported by influential figures like Michel Camdessus, former director general of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), author of a report for Nicolas Sarkozy on the balance of public accounts, holds all the attention of the government. Several working sessions have been held since March, at the Banque de France, the Ministry of Finance, the Elysee, and the Caisse des Depots, to study the feasibility. Under the complicated name of “manifest for the creation of an incentive and regulation device to facilitate access to banking” , this project aims to create, in an ad hoc law, an unprecedented device, to encourage banks to accept modest clients like any other, and to provide them with services tailored to their budgets and needs.

This device comprises two floors: a regulatory institute with an inspection body, responsible for evaluating, bank by bank, territory by territory (working-class neighborhoods, rural areas), trade policies towards low-income (services, type of credits …) and to issue them, or not, the certification; a fund endowed by the public authorities and the banks, to compensate for the extra costs borne by the most voluntary banks. This fund could guarantee certain social credits, along with the lines of the current Social Cohesion Fund (FCS).

Although inspired by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) – this American law of 1977, adopted after the anti-segregationist movements of the 1960s and 1970s to force banks to finance poor neighborhoods – this project, specify its designers, “is not intended to establish a universal right to credit”. The subprime crisis has shown the dangers of excess credit for lenders and borrowers.

Give a second chance

More simply, it is a question of fighting banking exclusion, since it arises from arbitrary practices and is ultimately the bed of over-indebtedness. Left on the doorstep of conventional banks, low incomes have no choice but to finance themselves with consumer credit agencies, which sell them loans indiscriminately, at low-interest rates.

By giving its project the force of law, Catholic Relief is betting on succeeding where the public policies of the last ten years have failed. Certainly, progress has been made since the introduction of the right to the account (Aubry law of 1998). The conditions for exiting the banking ban, which strikes all issuers of NSF checks for five years, have been eased. Mediators have been created within the banks. A personal recovery procedure was created in 2003 to provide a second chance for the over-indebted. Microcredit has been erected as a national priority. But in fact, banks have a natural tendency to exclude customers that they do not consider profitable enough. And in the end, the only legal obligation that weighs on it is the right to the account!

It remains to be seen whether the project will come to an end. Very enthusiastic at the first meetings, the Bank of France has made floor on the subject its specialized services on overindebtedness and banking supervision.

For their part, the Elysée and Bercy have welcomed the project, seeing the opportunity to “restore ethics and responsibility in the banking system . ” And this, even if the entourage of the Minister of Economy, Christine Lagarde, has expressed reservations on the credit side of the project, complicated to control for people at risk.

But the main obstacle will be to convince the banks. A meeting was held with Credit Mutuel chairman Etienne Pflimlin in early July. Appointments will be organized in September at Société Générale, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Groupe BPCE.