Banks Will Not Change on Their Own -- Here's My Radical Solution; BANKING ANALYSIS

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

Banks Will Not Change on Their Own -- Here's My Radical Solution; BANKING ANALYSIS


Byline: Graeme Davies

ALL this talk of "solutions" for banks is going nowhere, fast. The new Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition is keeping the Financial Services Authority as regulator of banks and other financial companies, rather than handing control back to the Bank of England. Vince Cable's more radical plans to split up banks also look to have been kicked into the long grass.

So those soothing and submissive noises the banks are making -- an industrywide exercise in damage limitation -- appear to be paying off. It is only a surprise that Max Clifford's services have not yet been engaged.

The awkward truth is that there is no intention to change and little necessity. The banks are simply too powerful.

The waiving of multi-million-pound salaries by wealthy directors is a temporary measure for public-relations purposes. This income will be repaid with interest in future years.

The magnificent largesse lavished on bankers by themselves this year, in the full glare of public opprobrium and ahead of catastrophic spending cuts caused exclusively by their rescue is evidence of this. They are, after all, only following the example set by MPs and their expenses.

Talk of "dismantling" Goldman Sachs and any other victim the media and government wishes to vent its frustration upon is just so much hot air. The British politicians promising corporate meddling on this scale were electioneering.

This is even less likely to be enforced than Barack Obama's promises to close that embarrassing little prison camp in Guantanamo.

Without the political will, there is little chance of an improvement in standards of corporate governance. The governors of banks will continue to be extremely well-paid former bankers, witness recent revelations about pay for nonexecutive directors of Barclays and HSBC. They have been given every reason to further the cause of this gravy train. The global banks are simply too big and too complex for us to cherish even the vaguest hope of proper governance.

In any case, the senior members of the executive and non-executive boards are politicians first and managers second. It is the tier beneath them who actually manage and their aspirations and incentives are different. Suggestions that a new regulatory environment is the answer are fatuous. This is not some sort of eureka moment. The banks have always been tightly regulated. This has always been ineffective. Even were this to be a solution, our beloved former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is quite right for a change, this would depend upon reaching global agreement. A truly global agreement. One that quite simply will never happen. There will always be loopholes to exploit. …

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