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Business Comment

Simon English: Tidjane Thiam is a naughty boy and the Pru's not the Messiah


Outlook By most common consent Tidjane Thiam is a brilliant chief executive. He is also a very naughty boy, at least according to the Financial Services Authority. The £30m fine whacked on to the insurer, and his censure by the watchdog yesterday, are unusual in lots of ways and a clear indication of just how angry the FSA was and is with Mr Thiam.

The language in the statement stops short, just, of saying that he is an arrogant chap, whose attempt to conduct a gigantic and risky takeover in a faraway land in the midst of a financial crisis without telling the regulator was foolhardy to say the least.

That's what Prudential shareholders thought too, in the end, so the FSA is hardly alone in doubting the wisdom of the Pru board (the board itself seems not to do doubt).

The size of the fine is striking, being slightly more than was dished out to UBS for failing to prevent the roulette-wheel trading by Kweku Adoboli that blew a £1.5bn hole in the bank.

Not telling the FSA what it was up to was "a serious error of judgement", says the watchdog, which clearly thinks that the Pru regarded itself as above regulation.

You can sort of see why the Prudential was worried that the deal would be leaked and therefore destroyed, but that's a clear indication that it doesn't trust the FSA in the first place.

If this were a marriage, divorce papers would have been filed some time ago.

There's not much sign of contrition in the insurer's own statement on the matter.

It says it "agreed to settle" the issue, as though it were doing the FSA a favour, as though it could easily have won this battle had it decided to fight on.

"We wish to draw a line under the matter," says the chairman, Paul Manduca, who goes on to say sorry, sort of, just barely.

In person, Mr Thiam is a charming fellow who wears his intellect lightly. But the public statements that emanate from the business he leads are hubristic.

Like the Pope, the Pru believes itself to be infallible. It cannot make a mistake and has never made one.

The evidence is fairly dramatically in the other direction.