17/10/2012 17:30 BST | Updated 18/10/2012 17:41 BST

Bankers Tell Conference 'We're Sorry, But Let's Look Forward'

The chairmen of five of the high street's biggest banks today appealed to their industry to accept their wrongdoing and continue work to rebuild a sense of trust with the public.

Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, was one of the more candid speakers on the subject, telling the British Bankers' Association conference: "At the core of our bank, there's never been anything wrong with it - we did lots of stupid things, but once we've rectified those silly things we'll be in a good position."

Later, he added: "Banks still have an awful lot to do to improve (outcomes) for customers and for shareholders - we know we haven't been doing a good job and we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps."

All of the banks' chairmen recognised the perception that banks were not lending, but Sir David Walker, chair of Barclays, claimed the problem was not turning customers away, but was actually a lack of demand.

"Our lending to SMEs is going up, but what concerns me is something that is out of our control; there isn't enough demand from SMEs for lending," he said.

Sir David added later that banks should want to "reduce their significance" in the future and encourage private markets to offer capital to companies.

"In Europe, 70% of funding from corporations comes from banking and I think we should be looking to move closer to the US model - maybe not as far as they are, where 70% of funding comes from capital markets, but maybe a 50:50 split."

Sir Win Bischoff, chair of the Lloyds Banking Group, said it was important for the public to know that "banks were open for business", with Sir John Peace, chairman of Standard Chartered, adding that 85% of loan applications from SMEs had been approved.

Sir John then rallied the conference by saying the banks had a duty to help revitalise the economy.

"When the economic pie is shrinking, it shapes the attitudes of the public, which influences the thoughts of politicians, " he said.

"What's most important is for the economy to be revitalised - how do we make banks feel as relevant to society as it has been for hundreds of years? Banking must evolve to meet the needs of its clients, both individual customers and businesses.

"I'm far more optimistic than I have been over the past few years, but it's important for us to stop looking through the rear view mirror."

There was also broad agreement on the need to reassess not just pay, but how profits were shared out between management, staff at banks and shareholders.

The appropriateness of incentives must be analysed, said Sir David, and structures where revenues were related to performance were fundamentally flawed and corrupt.

But a note of warning was sounded from Douglas Flint, chair of HSBC Holdings, who said the main challenge of the past five years was that despite the enormous amount of work which had gone into reforming banking, none of the reforms had been completed yet.

"With Vickers, twin peaks regulation, conduct authorities (et al) there's an awful lot to assimilate," he said.