Nick Goodway: Why does 'sorry' seem to be such a hard word for all these bankers?
Thursday 31 October 2013
Outlook "There was a period of remorse and apology for banks and I think that period needs to be over," Bob Diamond, then chief executive of Barclays, told the Treasury Select Committee almost three years ago in January 2011.
It was that attitude, as much as the £290m fine Barclays ended up paying for its role in the Libor-rigging scandal, which cost Mr Diamond his job.
Sadly the time for apologies from bankers is far from over and may, indeed, never be over.
Even more sadly, we are seeing damn few apologies from any of them.
Over the past couple of months we have seen a procession of former executives of both the Co-op Group and its offshoot the Co-operative Bank appear before the Treasury Select Committee.
First up was Neville Richardson, architect of the merger between Co-op Bank which he went on to run with his own Britannia Building Society. No apologies there, even though it is abundantly clear to everyone that the events which almost brought the mutual bank to its knees and saw the Prudential Regulatory Authority order it to find £1.5bn of extra capital stemmed from that deal.
Then came Peter Marks, former chief executive of the Co-op Group. He too refused to apologise. His line was that he took "collective responsibility" but despite the fact that he sat on the board of the bank, he was not personally to blame. Instead he pointed the finger at Mr Richardson and his predecessor as chief executive of Co-op Bank, David Anderson. Bizarrely Mr Marks did say that if the takeover of Somerfield had not worked he would apologise. Presumably the time for grocers to start apologising is yet to come.
This week we had Barry Tootell, who took over as chief executive of the bank from Mr Richardson, before the committee. Once again, no apology. Instead he tried to blame the capital shortfall on compensation for PPI mis-selling as well as the Britannia's bad loans. Oh, and the regulator, the Financial Services Authority, had pretty much given its approval for the Project Verde takeover of 632 branches from Lloyds.
So, from the former bosses of Britain's biggest ethical bank, loads of buck-passing but no apologies.
Let us move on, then, to Lloyds Banking Group, which is now a mere 33 per cent owned by the taxpayer. To be fair (why on earth should one be?) chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio and his team have done a pretty good job. There is a sporting chance that the taxpayer may actually come out of the £20bn bail out of Lloyds and HBOS without having lost money – if you don't include the lost interest.
Mr Horta-Osorio made the headlines when he told the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards that the mis-selling of payment protection insurance had been "unacceptable". That was pretty close to an apology.
But when the bank unexpectedly added another £750m to its potential bill for PPI compensation taking the total to more than £8bn this week, was there a word of apology? Of course not. That is £8bn which could have been lent to small businesses or first time home buyers, don't forget.
Now we have Barclays admitting it is being probed as part of the investigation by global authorities into rigging of the foreign exchange markets. This could well be bigger than Libor-rigging and yet, when asked if chief executive Antony Jenkins would care to comment, the bank responded that he could add nothing to the statement. That statement, incidentally, appeared on page 43 of Barclays' 44-page report. So no apology?
No. And there won't be many more. Bankers need to be told that they cannot apologise too often and too much.
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