Business Comment: Accept the apology and let the matter rest

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The Independent Online
Apologies as grovelling as the one issued by Sir Chips Keswick yesterday over Hambros' role in the failed bid for the Cooperative Wholesale Society are rare in the City but there may be merit in making them the norm in scandals of this sort. Certainly Sir Chips' remorse provides an elegant and swift way of settling an affair which could have dragged on for years at considerable reputational and monetary cost not just to Hambros, but to the City more generally.

It may well be that the circumstances surrounding Hambros' role were so utterly damning that Sir Chips had little option but to agree all that the Co-op and its advisers, SBC Warburg, asked for, but if that were the case, then the Co-op would surely have been able to extract more. The usual practice in such affairs is for the triumphant City house to press home its advantage with regulators as vindictively and aggressively as possible. This is not always in the client's best interests since part of the purpose here is for the City adviser to do down his competitors. Too often, however, the result is a more general damage, both to the reputation of the City and because of the resulting regulatory crackdown, its freedom of manoeuvre.

This is not to argue that the City be able to sweep its more unsavoury episodes under the carpet by simply saying: "Sorry old chap, didn't mean it really. Here's your legal costs and now let's forget the whole thing ever happened." That plainly would not be a satisfactory way of proceeding. But in this case we know most of what happened.

The damage to Hambros and others involved is already considerable, so bad in the case of Hambros that its future as an independent investment bank must now be in doubt. The Regan affair has highlighted the desperate measures middle-ranking City banks will sometimes resort to in the search for fees and recognition. But little further retribution would be gained by pursuing the matter to the bitter end. On the other hand, another raft of regulatory red tape and rules for the City in general would be more or less guaranteed.

Obviously there will have to be disciplinary action against those shown to have breached professional standards. The City also needs urgently to examine more generally its standards of integrity and probity, a process the Bank of England and others will no doubt want to be involved in. But since nobody outside Mr Regan and his advisers and backers have been damaged by this episode, that is probably where matters ought to rest.