The Competition Commission, with the blessing of Chancellor Gordon Brown, has given the banks a bashing over their treatment of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The commission's two-year inquiry found that the eight banks they investigated operated a complex monopoly'. It also found that the four major high street banks made excess profits of £725m a year out of small businesses. It has given the banks three months to get their houses in order or it will legislate. Therefore banks should not penalise small business for switching accounts, so account holders should be able to shop around. Dave Harrop, spokesman for the Forum for Private Business, considers this a significant point. "The statistics show that, while 40% of small businesses think about switching banks, in reality only 5% actually do because of the cost involved." The new controls will also lift the requirement to hold a current account to obtain a loan and current accounts should attract interest. Lawyers quoted in the national press suggested that the ruling could open the door for thousands of small retailers to claim compensation for discrimination which prevented them getting better interest rates. Those who haven't gone into debt should stand the best chance. On that note, if you feel you have been overcharged by your bank, I would recommend you contact bank audit-checking company Anglia Business Associates, privately run until a couple of years ago when it was bought by Which?/Consumers' Association. The company charges £75 a year for each year it audits ­ and it can go back as far as your statements do ­ and takes around 35% of what it claws back. Believe me, its files have staggering cases of retailers overcharged to the point of bankruptcy. You can contact the company on 01953 600811. The Competition Commission's report comes a month after a bit of hoo-ha in the national press about the Halifax bank "slamming its doors" ­ to quote The Sun newspaper's front page ­ on traders who deal in cash. A chart used for Halifax staff training listed undesirable potential customers which included cabbies, window cleaners, market traders, and retailers and start-ups that deal with coinage. It is actually nothing new to the independent retail trade that most banks penalise for cash handling and it doesn't look as if the commission's findings will result in these charges being lowered. It will mean, however, that they will be more transparent so you can make comparisons more readily. You can read all about it on the web site 462banks.htm It's four volumes long and the information on transparent charges is on page 94, volume 2. Meanwhile Alliance & Leicester and its subsidiary Girobank has seized the opportunity to state how well placed it is to meet the cash-handling needs of smaller businesses through its access to more than 17,500 post offices throughout the country. For high cash usage businesses with a turnover under £500,000, it offers an account with a £1.75 per month standing charge plus 65p per transaction. Last year Girobank processed a record £59bn of cash for businesses which is about £1 in every £4 that passes through the nation's tills. {{GROCER CLUB }}