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James Moore: Furse needs to shake off the Fortis factor

  • @TheIndyBusiness

Outlook Clara Furse's appointment to the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England has taken a considerable amount of flak thanks to her previous role on the board of Fortis.

That is understandable. The Belgian bank joined forces with Royal Bank of Scotland's insane plan to buy up and break up Dutch rival ABN Amro on her watch.

But it's not so much the error in itself that should be of concern; as a non-executive director she voted in favour of the deal but her role in the debacle was a minor one. If she learned lessons from it her presence on a committee charged with identifying future pitfalls could prove invaluable.

The problem is there doesn't appear to be much evidence that she has. In defending her time there, she fell back on what many bankers have said: the conditions that prevailed in the market in 2008 spoiled everything. Most notably Fortis' funding plan. In that she joins an unlovely parade of bankers who seem incapable of seeing any fault in their decision-making. Ms Furse has also highlighted over-regulation as "the most significant" threat to future stability. It's true complex, and potentially contradictory, rules can be problematic. But there are a plethora of other problems, the biggest of which could be, as a survey of finance professionals by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reveals today, the industry's toxic culture.

Ms Furse did many good things at the London Stock Exchange, not least fighting off repeated hostile takeover bids which could have had a malign impact on London's financial centre (although the latter has become pretty skilled at creating problems for itself).

But those bids, and the antediluvian attitudes of many in the City who just didn't like her because of her gender, created something of a ghetto mentality, and a defensiveness which appears to persist today and which won't well serve a committee vital to Britain's financial future.