Simon English: In the surreal place called Planet Banker, those in charge are never to blame
The bank's leadership insist that HSBC's issues are a matter of structure rather than culture
Tuesday 31 July 2012
Welcome to Planet Banker, a surreal place where a seeming lack of oxygen seems to affect the eye-sight and hearing of the inhabitants.
Yesterday's conference call with HSBC to discuss their latest extraordinary disasters – half year results, they prefer – took place on this curious planet, a place that gets stranger by the week.
On Planet Banker accidents happen, mistakes even. But they never directly involve the people in charge. The directors express deep regret and say that they are taking full responsibility, but somehow can't see that this is a far cry from actually taking it.
The participants on the call were a bunch of hacks straining to hide their incredulity at what was being said and a bunch of HSBC executives who genuinely seemed to imagine that they were giving frank replies to rather mean questions.
Why are we going on about that cocaine money-laundering thing when their continued capital strength is such a source of reassurance?
That Libor scandal is not to be discussed. We've said all we can. Now about the 12 per cent rise in commercial banking revenues... They did touch on the various scandals, but it seemed to think these things had happened at some other company, with them mere innocent bystanders.
"The banking industry is operating in a hostile climate," said the chairman Douglas Flint, as if HSBC had nothing to do with creating public and political anger at the sector. The bank's leadership – Flint and chief executive Stuart Gulliver – insist that HSBC's issues are a matter of structure rather than culture.
Would his own bonus be affected by the money-laundering fiasco, Gulliver was asked. He pushed back: "That's a matter for the remuneration committee," which sounds very like "no, why should it?"
"We get it," insisted Gulliver, sounding for all the world like a man who does not.
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