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i Editor's Letter: We should care about Cyprus matters

 

There is little to add to Hamish McRae's incisive, lucid and accessible dissection yesterday of why Cyprus matters. But what's clear overnight is that events in Nicosia (and Moscow) may entirely overshadow those at 11 Downing Street and Westminster.

We may not care directly that the Cypriot Finance Minister has resigned, nor even that Cyprus is looking to Russia for help, but we should – for reasons Hamish outlined. However, many of us will be nervous that a sacred tenet of Western capitalism has been broken: never touch the deposits.

The sanctity of the deposit surely underpins what little confidence we have left in the banks. We may look askance at obscene gains and destructive losses in investment banking as long as retail banking, where our deposits are held, remains "secure".

This notion of relative safety may defy reason – witness the Northern Rock panic. It is also odd given that many of us will be losing money on our accounts due to relative interest and inflation rates. However, psychologically, we think the money is safe.

How we laughed at our grandparents' insistence on keeping money under the mattress. There, the bankers can't get their hands on it. Never mind that it is depreciating in real terms, or that if they had invested in the stock market they would be quids in. It is never true that there is no alternative. And as the Cypriot deposit grab begins to unravel we shall see what the alternative is. However, in terms of long-term confidence in beleaguered banks, the damage is already done. Many more of us will be sleeping on a mattress of cash tonight.

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