Simon English: We may never see Greenburgh's like again – hopefully

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The Independent Online

Where is Matthew Greenburgh? The word is that the former Merrill Lynch banker is swanning around Highgate, north London, living in sumptuous splendour, thoroughly enjoying a retirement he was able to take in his late forties thanks in part to the extraordinary fee he got for encouraging Sir Fred Goodwin to buy ABN Amro.

Mr Greenburgh was paid close to £11m for his part in this disastrous takeover, which has since cost the rest of us many billions to unravel. If he has regrets, they remain private. I asked Mr Greenburgh a while ago if he felt any remorse for the trouble caused, but he was unrepentant. "My role was to perform in line with what the clients expected," he said.

In other words, whether a deal was a good or bad idea was not an issue. If the client wanted to do it, Greenburgh's job was to facilitate.

The FSA report into the collapse of RBS is scathing on the role of the bank's advisers. It says: "The investment banking advice commissioned by the RBS board was provided by brokers whose fees would, for the most part, be payable only on completion of the acquisition. While this was common practice at the time, it did mean that, as the adviser had a substantial financial interest in the successful completion of the transaction, it is difficult to regard the adviser as independent."

Mr Greenburgh and his boss Andrea Orcel, who remains in employment at the now-merged Bank of America Merrill Lynch, were paid in a fairly extraordinary way. They got a direct cut of the fees RBS gave to Merrill. So they were incentivised to tell the board what it wanted to hear, rather than be proper advisers.

Mr Greenburgh was a clever operator. When chief executives needed cash raising in unpromising circumstances, or awkward deals shoving through, he was brilliant. By some accounts, he cast a sort of spell on Sir Fred, who came to assume that if his favourite banker said something, it must be true.

Among other bankers, the Maserati-driving Mr Greenburgh was not, shall we say, universally popular. Indeed, some still refer to him as The ELF, which does not stand for Erudite Likeable Fellow. The L stands for "Little" – that's about all I can confirm for reasons of politeness. Other bankers say they've seen Greenburgh at airports from time to time and reckon he has done the odd bit of private work. Otherwise, he's off scot-free and living high on the hog.

After the ABN debacle unravelled, Mr Greenburgh turned up as an adviser to Lloyds TSB as it pushed through its takeover of HBOS. He has much to answer for, but there seems to be no process by which he will be held to account.

Part of the punishment for miscreant bankers should be social disapproval. Sir Fred has certainly got that. It is sort of to be hoped that something similar has happened to Greenburgh. That there are places where he is no longer welcome. That within the corners of his super confident mind, there lurks doubt about who he is and what he did.

It is also to be hoped that other bankers will decide that Mr Greenburgh is not who they want to emulate. That their deals should succeed in the long term, not make them rich in the short term. We may never see his like again. Hopefully.

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