Friday 14 August 2009

Banks and Regulation

An irritating interview with the Head of the FSA on Wednesday had me chuntering into my tea. An attempt to claim they had not watered down their Code on bank pay after pressure from the City. A rather withering commentary on the programme compared this with the firm commitment from the PM to sweep away the short term bonus culture.

Just one example of the FSA's apparent wimpishness ; they were proposing that one of the core principles for the Code would be that bonuses are not paid at all if the Bank records a loss ! This now simply becomes " guidance". Amazing. Imagine if a charity heading for a loss decided to increase staff pay. Or put up the CEO salary! But of course in the banking world if you make a loss the taxpayer bails you out !

So it looks like its back to business as usual as the country lurches further into recession. And our regulatory system is shown to be the Paper tiger it clearly was when the Banks all led us into crisis.

So are the Banks are back to their bad old ways? A breathtaking interview with the new CEO of RBS suggested that they need to pay bonuses in order to pay back the taxpayer. The banks appear so seriously removed from the every day concerns of the rest of us they fail to understand the damage they have caused and the need for humility, reflection and change, rather than self justification.

And we get the tired old excuses from The British Bankers Association that without big bonuses the bankers will all flee the country and they claim, without any hint of irony, that the country will "become uncompetitive". Of course we now know that if only a large number of these arrogant folk had fled the country we might all have been spared some of the pain of the crash.

The fact that they choose to make these claims when we get news of the worst unemployment figures in 14 years only underlines the impression that they have learned little.

Hector Sants, the FSA CEO who spoilt my breakfast, claims it's not his job to clamp down on bonuses, but politicians. An argument which holds little water and which contrasts sharply with the robust attitude of another regulator, The Audit Commission, whose CEO is not afraid to set out his views on what Councils should and should not do. Sants pointedly refused to condemn big bonuses. But he was a banker. Perhaps we should appoint Martin Narey of Barnados to head the FSA ; doubt he would find it difficult to be robust and cut the banks down to size!

If we don't have a regulator prepared to regulate bonuses then Government has to act. However I must avoid sounding like "outraged of Tunbridge-Wells", so what do we need to do?

For me, this underlines the need for the sector to be playing a robust role in arguing for radical reform. For a Social Investment Bank and a Community Reinvestment Act. For a regulatory regime that guarantees fairness. The way our banks and finance system work affects us all and how our sector can do its job. We are picking up the pieces after the banks folly when we tackle the evils of unemployment, the despair of young people and the fallout of recession.

We have members who are cutting back their staff and trimming budgets even though demand is rising.

So one idea; perhaps the kind people of the British Bankers Association might like to pop along to one of these organisations and talk to our staff about how bonuses are so vital. And a spot of volunteering for Mr Sants? I'm happy to arrange.

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