James Moore: City's version of Judge Dredd will need to wield a very big stick

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The Independent Online

Outlook The best part of a decade in Hong Kong appears to have transformed Martin Wheatley from the acceptable face of the London Stock Exchange (he was once deputy chief executive) into the City's version of Judge Dredd.

Yesterday he turned his lawgiver on bonuses, not just the mega-bucks enjoyed by those at the top but the smaller incentives offered to those lower down the food chain that can still cause a lot of damage.

While traders place bad bets in the financial casino for millions, on the road shiny-suited salesmen compete for one-off super bonuses in the thousands for stealing pensions. The latter was an actual example dug out by Mr Wheatley who yesterday declared, in so many words, that he was calling time on such practices.

He wants incentive schemes to promote good practice and make bankers loveable again. Could this herald the return of the cuddly bank manager whowould get his secretary to make you a cuppa while advising you not to borrow too much in case you got into trouble?

It sounds marvellous, but we've been here before. People have been talking about the dangers inherent in commission-based sales for more than 20 years now and yet it's done nothing to stop the parade of scandals. Home income plans, personal pensions, endowments and most recently payment protection insurance: all have been foisted upon uneducated and naive consumers who lack the wherewithal to see the flaws in what they are getting into by smiling salesmen claiming to have their best interests at heart.

Any alcoholic will tell you that the first step in getting treatment for your affliction is the admission that you have a problem. But banks, and financial institutions generally, have shown little sign that they accept that they have to change tack. Former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, not long after the financial crisis, argued that "we get it" when he and his colleagues clearly didn't. The proof was in its remuneration report, and when the generals don't "get it" the foot soldiers won't either.

That's what Mr Wheatley is up against. He says he will be taking a close personal interest in how banks and, for that matter, insurers react to what he has had to say.

They will probably pay lip service to what he wants, while carrying on as normal.

Mr Wheatley may have to wield a very big stick if he wants to effect real change. Does he have the will, and will he be allowed to use it? We'll see.