Banking – Has anything changed?

Over the last two years or so the repercussions of the sub-prime debacle have been rocking the world economy, and bringing down such global giants as Goldman Sachs & JP Morgan Chase. Every High Street in the country has been left with gaps where businesses have closed; even such household names as Woolworths have bitten the dust. In the UK we saw Northern Rock, Lloyds & RBS bailed out by the government and cost this country £!.5 trillion! Furthermore every home-owner has seen the value of their asset dive by around 25-30%, which will have had a catastrophic impact on many families. So, amidst this global upheaval, and almost a year after the main shockwave, I ask “Has anything changed in the banking sector?

I will be the very first to admit that I am no banking expert, but let us examine this through the lens of Change. The politicians had to act to avert an even worse crisis and they had to both reassure us (and our creditors & partners.) They then had to sell the cost of their actions to us. Thus we had Gordon Brown telling us

“Any system has got to be based on long-term performance and that will have to be policed in the future by the FSA”

in an effort to convince us that there would be no hiding place and that a new sheriff had just ridden into town and we were safe once again and could again rely on the proverbial strength of the British bank.

However, Alan Greenspan said recently

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organisations, specifically Banks, was such that they were best capable of protecting the interests of their own shareholders” and “Crisis will happen again but it will be different no two crises have anything in common except human nature”

In order for change to take place there has to be a number of factors in place:-

  • There must be a clear acknowledgment that either things aren’t working or can be done better

    Yes

  • A change in leadership, including new blood at the top tables

      NO

  • Rewards for changing and/or penalties for not doing so

      NO

  • Clarity about the role of banks… who do they serve? Their shareholders, the community, the country, their depositors, their borrowers???

      NO

  • · A clear idea / vision of what needs doing to make things different

      NO

  • Clear , powerful communication down the chain of command of how each person is now supposed to behave and how they will be measured and rewarded
NO     

  Given that they seem to have failed almost all of these pre-requisites, and indeed, given that their main regret seems having been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar rather than anything more fundamental (think of their apology to the Treasury sub-committee,) I suspect we can safely assume that they will firstly look after themselves, and then their shareholders and thus continue to do the things that make them rich.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care who gets paid £1m; or more! What I do care about is the reason that they are taking that home. What wealth have they generated? Who, besides them and their shareholders, benefits? As long as that is clear and commensurate with their level of pay, that is fine by me.

However, it seems to me that banks have two roles. Firstly, they are a utility that processes the financial transactions of borrowers and depositors, with a primary role to safe guard the assets entrusted to them, using their expertise to make this process smooth and safe. The other is as a speculator in a range of different financial ventures, where they should share risks and rewards with their partners and investors. I don’t think these two roles, or two sets of stake-holders sit very comfortably together.

“In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act.”  George Orwell

The people who are in charge are all bankers who have been absolutely raised with the traditional view of their role. Indeed, one insider, and multi-million bonus earner said that he was busier than ever as the reorganisation in the market place has just meant fewer players are carving it up and the ‘credit crunch’ has allowed them to dictate terms rather than compete.

Paul Moore, the HBOS whistleblower, was fired for telling his bosses they were getting it wrong; we need people like this to have the power to draw up new blueprints of how banks work in the 21st century.

Have each and every one of us mortgaged our futures and paid with our pensions just to keep the same people driving the same Porsches, living in the same mansions? Our lives have certainly changed, but I think it unlikely that the people who control this sector have…

I leave you with a few interesting historic quotes:-

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.” – Abraham Lincoln, (from a November 21, 1864 letter to Colonel William F. Elkins)

“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.” – James Madison (4th US President)

And the final Pièce de résistance… found in the press yesterday

What more can I say…..?  So I’ll leave it to the World’s most successful investor

“If you’re in a card game and you can’t figure out who the patsy is, you’re it.”  Warren Buffett

                                                                                                                                                    © I-Change 2009

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4 Responses to “Banking – Has anything changed?”

  1. Peter Syme says:

    I am no expert in banking but it does seem to me that there is a simple solution going forward.

    Force the banks to split into separate business with no links between them

    Retail for day to day banking, savings, mortgages, lending and business banking ran with a view to be a service for society no need to make huge profit just ensure the balance sheet is in good order and the service is good. This is the part the central government has to support if required as it is the oil that makes society function.

    Investment banking. Run as separate companies and they live or die like any other company, pay their directors and staff what they like but they do not have ties to retail banking or the ability to use retail banking funds for their gambling.

    Peter

  2. Peter, I think this is exactly right One wonders, if we can come up with this solution, why there is no pressure to move in this direction? Is it purely vested interest and corruption? Or is there a good answer..

  3. Peter Syme says:

    Richard

    With regards to vested interests , I think you are right. The banks have taken one message above all others during this episode. We are too big to fail! Therefore they will do whatever they can to ensure they are in a position to have the best of both worlds. Tax payer support and rewards without risk that are all out of proportion to other industries and society at large.

    Peter

  4. […] recently wrote an article on an allied subject, and was recently interviewed about this.  As ever, I’d be interested […]

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