Simon English: Behind the fruity language, traders are actually the most honest types in the City
Everyone – including teetotal nursery schoolteachers – is out for themselves
Wednesday 06 February 2013
Get mad at City traders if you want. Knock yourself out. If they even notice, they won't care. Scanning the emails captured by regulators investigating Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS) role in the Libor scandal, it is easy to see why someone might get cross and conclude that traders are the root of all evil.
An alternative view is this: of all the types plying their trade in the City of London, Wall Street and elsewhere, traders are the most honest, even if that only amounts to being honest about their dishonesty.
You can be shocked at the fruity language – if you're a teetotal nursery schoolteacher who doesn't own a television – but behind the words there is a world view at work.
Even if the traders might not articulate it as such, it goes something like this: the whole world is bent.
Everyone – including teetotal nursery schoolteachers – is out for themselves, whether they admit it or not.
Money is the best way to buy happiness or buy-off unhappiness. If you've a chance to make some you should take it, otherwise you're just a mug.
Banks and bank bosses don't exactly discourage this view.
Indeed, bonuses are awarded on just how sharply the traders manage to follow the (deeply unofficial) rules.
Traders are acutely aware that they are given conflicting roads to follow, and that the straight and narrow one leads nowhere lucrative.
Don't collude with supposed rivals across town to rig interest rates, says the rule book. Don't get caught, says the boss.
In the traders' eyes this is plain hypocrisy and while they may be guilty of many things, that isn't one of them.
So, what to do? Well, stop pretending that a financial instrument such as Libor can be set in such a casual, amateurish way with big incentives for cheating in clear sight. Take back bonuses. Pursue top bosses. If you like.
Another thing you could do is this: relax and enjoy it. Libor is important in the wholesale financial markets, but despite what you may have read, there's barely any link between it and your mortgage.
And in the case of RBS it was Libor in other currencies which was fiddled in any case.
The main point is this: Libor-fixing is one bank legging over another. It is trader-on-trader violence. Good clean fun.
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