James Moore: Bankers are bound to want their day in court

 

Outlook It seems almost unbelievable: A German bank being seen as the "goody" in a court battle.

And yet that is where Commerzbank finds itself. Perhaps that's because of who is on the other side. The baddies are, of course, bankers. Or ex-bankers.

Bankers are always the baddies, but these bankers in particular have caused outrage because of the nature of their demands.

They (there are 104) want the bank, bailed out by the German state, to pony up millions of pounds in bonuses they say they were promised by bosses at Dresdner Kleinwort, the investment banking arm of Dresdner Bank that joined Commerzbank in 2009.

The money was dangled in front of their noses as a guaranteed bonus pool by the then DK chief executive Stefan Jentzsch who wanted to stem a steady stream of departures.

It is said a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on but this one stuck when it reached the High Court after Commerzbank tried to cut payments on account of DK losing money hand over fist.

Commerzbank is back in the game, however, because the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case. Don't get too excited, though. Public outrage about bankers won't matter much to their honours, who will look solely at the points of law.

This case generally smacks of mismanagement and City excess. Even if Commerzbank wins, it will leave a sour taste in the mouth. Remember, it once had a London investment banking arm of its own that shelled out bad bonuses with the best of them.

There's going to be more of this sort of thing too. Figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research yesterday show that the City jobs total has fallen to 237,000, the lowest since 1993. They have to be taken with a pinch of salt: the City is about more than banking and some parts of it are doing quite nicely, thank you very much.

All the same, those bankers now on the street will be well aware that the gravy train has ended, at least for them. Seeking advice from a lawyer to see if a few extra drops can be squeezed out to smooth the path to a very early retirement is a no-brainer. However cross any resultant court case might make their fellow citizens.

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