David Prosser: The bankers' fightback continues

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook "They say cut back, we say fight back." It is a battle cry that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a trade union march, but just now it is also a perfect characterisation of the increasingly belligerent stance that the banking sector has adopted since the turn of the year. With the noisy campaign for bonus restraint showing no sign of quietening down, senior bankers appear to have decided that enough is enough.

We heard it first from Barclays' new chief executive Bob Diamond a fortnight ago. The time for remorse is over, he said. We heard it again last week from JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, who told Davos delegates that the banks would not just "bend over" when threatened with regulation they did not like. And yesterday we heard it once more from Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC, who continued to drop not-so-subtle hints that his bank could leave the UK over the issue of regulation, some of which, in any case, he believes is counter-productive.

Mr Flint's criticism of the push for greater transparency on bankers' pay was especially ingenious. Publishing more information about what each bank's staff earn might actually see remuneration increase, he warned, because anyone paid less than his peers at a rival would demand a hike.

Is the fight back a co-ordinated response? Maybe so – there have been meetings between senior bankers from around the world in recent weeks – but either way it is clear the mood among financiers has changed. Contrition is out of fashion: the trend now is the push back against additional regulation.

In the UK, the banks may be pushing at an open door. George Osborne's public utterances on the banking sector of late have been full of his desire to move past the current hostilities. If he can get a deal on lending targets – don't expect it to be demanding – he will make that case more vocally.

Elsewhere, too, the atmosphere has calmed. The debate in the US is no longer primarily concerned with pay and bonuses. In Asia, remuneration was never much of an issue in the first place.

Many people will resent the attitude of the banks, which whether or not they took taxpayers' cash directly, all benefited from our bail-out of the system. But after a lengthy period in which bankers felt they had no choice but to accept their punishment, we are entering a climate in which extracting further recompense from them is going to prove ever more difficult.

Comments