Mark Carney and the man on the Clapham omnibus are in agreement


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Did HSBC somehow imagine that the leaked news that two of its directors were contemplating resigning over rules that could see them and their fellow board members jailed for not doing their jobs properly, could sway the Bank of England?

If so, it’s now been firmly disabused of that notion. The response from the Bank of England’s Governor, Mark Carney, couldn’t have been plainer: off you trot, then.

Despite that £600,000 salary, generous relocation allowance, and a previous career at Goldman Sachs, Mr Carney appears to have a better handle on the views of the man on the Clapham omnibus than many, perhaps even most, of those in public life when it comes to banking and bankers.

When he growls about the way the industry’s pre-crisis leadership has escaped its misdeeds without sanction to comfortable retirement, he gives voice to frustration and resentment that continues to simmer up and down the country. A frustration and resentment that has, ironically, played no small part in the rise of a certain former City boy to political prominence – one Nigel Farage.

Bankers’ behaviour, Mr Carney says, still needs to change.

At this point HSBC might point to the work it has undertaken to ensure that it complies with US regulations governing money-laundering after being exposed as a conduit for Mexican drug money. And it’s true, the bank has undergone a remarkable transformation under chief executive Stuart Gulliver. It’s sold off a huge number of businesses, bringing the curtain down on the economically senseless practice of flag-planting. It has tightened its internal controls, given compliance staff more clout and even won praise from US watchdogs.

The bank has also changed its remuneration policy. Executives have to wait many years to cash in, and clawback is an ever present threat (although the bank hasn’t been above the practice of handing its top people lucrative “allowances” to get around the EU’s bonus cap). Hang on, HSBC might say; we’re a terribly conservative bunch whose business is largely funded by our customers’ deposits anyway.

It has a point. Perhaps the word Mr Carney should have used is “attitude”, which hasn’t changed all that much. The leaked threats by those directors to flounce out in response to rules that might hold them to account for not doing their jobs shows that. What should be of concern to Mr Carney is that it might take a generation for these to start shifting. If they ever do.

You poll if you want to, but does it help your customers?

 It was hard to find a mention of the Scottish referendum in YouGov’s results, despite the fact that the pollster got the outcome right.

That poll merited just a brief mention in chief executive Stephen Shakespeare’s windy explanation of the group’s strategy in Section E: “Boost Our Public Profile”. This is perhaps because YouGov’s meat and drink is in deploying its research techniques on behalf of corporate clients rather than media organisations and political parties.

At a time when businesses are busy erecting walls between themselves and customers, they rely on the likes of YouGov to tell them what their customers think of them.

Which is why you’ll hear so many executives gushing about polls showing 90 per cent of their customers think they’re jolly good. It provides them with a comfort blanket. Even though the disgruntled 10 per cent might easily represent hundreds of thousands of unhappy customers. And even though there may be millions more out there who are too fed up to respond to online polls, because they doubt whether they’ll change anything much.

In the meantime, YouGov’s profile will remain high with an election approaching, which will be followed (perhaps) by a referendum on Europe. Perhaps it’s time for businesses to start thinking about that, and about how to make a coherent case against the economic insanity of leaving the EU, to which people will respond.

This requires a degree of care. Too often business leaders manage to sound petulant and self-serving when commenting on the big issues of the day. Getting it wrong could very easily prove counter-productive, driving people into the “leave” camp out of pique.

But this, like the recent Scottish referendum, is too important a discussion for business to remain on the sidelines. And there are too many loudly banging the drums for the UK’s departure.

Concerned executives need only to look at YouGov’s polling figures to show just how real the threat is.

On the right track for  the Eurostar sell-off

After the debacle of the Royal Mail privatisation, that worked only for those taxpayers who signed up for the share offer (and I was among their number), it’s no wonder the Government is treading a little more carefully with its next sell-off.

As such, it will be able to pull the plug on its plans to dispose of the UK’s stake in Eurostar, which operates trains to France and Belgium using the Channel Tunnel, if it starts to look as if the price isn’t right.

What’s that you say? Something about the consideration of the impact on service standards? In this case it probably won’t have much effect. The French SNCF holds majority control and a sell-off won’t change that. But it would be nice if it was at least part of the debate.