Simon English: Unrepentant and living in splendour, the kind of banker we just don't need

It is also to be hoped other bankers will decide Greenburgh is not who they want to emulate

Where is Matthew Greenburgh? The word is that the former Merrill Lynch banker is swanning around Highgate, living in sumptuous splendour, thoroughly enjoying a retirement he was able to take in his late forties thanks in part to the extraordinary fee he got for encouraging Sir Fred Goodwin to buy ABN Amro.

Greenburgh was paid close to £11m for his part in this disastrous takeover, which has since cost the rest of us many billions to unravel. If he has regrets, they remain private. I asked Greenburgh a while ago if he had any sorrow for the trouble caused, and he was unrepentant. "My role was to perform in line with what the clients expected," he said.

In other words, whether deals were good or bad ideas was not an issue. If the client wanted to do it, his job was to facilitate. The FSA report into the collapse of RBS is scathing on the role of the bank's advisers.

It says: "The investment banking advice commissioned by the RBS board was provided by brokers whose fees would for the most part be payable only on completion of the acquisition. While this was common practice at the time, it did mean that, as the adviser had a substantial financial interest in the successful completion of the transaction, it is difficult to regard the adviser as independent."

Greenburgh and his boss Andrea Orcel, who remains in employment at the now-merged Bank of America Merrill Lynch, were paid in a fairly extraordinary way. They got a direct cut of the fees RBS gave to Merrill. So they were incentivised to tell the board what it wanted to hear, rather than be proper advisers.

Greenburgh was a clever operator. When chief executives needed cash raising in unpromising circumstances, or awkward deals shoving through, he was brilliant. By some accounts, he had cast a spell on Sir Fred, who came to assume that if his favourite banker said something, it must be true. Among other bankers, the Maserati-driving Greenburgh was not, shall we say, universally popular. Indeed, some still refer to him as The ELF, which does not stand for Erudite Likeable Fellow. The L stands for "Little" – that's about all I can confirm for reasons of politeness. Other bankers say they've seen Greenburgh at airports from time to time and reckon he has done the odd bit of private work for companies. Otherwise, he's off scot free and living high on the hog.

After the ABN debacle unravelled, it's worth remembering, Greenburgh turned up as an adviser to Lloyds TSB as it pushed through its takeover of HBOS. He has much to answer for, but there seems to be no process by which he will be held to account.

Part of the punishment for miscreant bankers should be social disapproval. Sir Fred has certainly got that. It is sort of to be hoped that something similar has happened to Greenburgh. That there are places where he is no longer welcome. That within the corners of his super-confident mind there lurks doubt about who he is and what he did.

It is also to be hoped that other bankers will decide that Greenburgh is not who they want to emulate. That their deals should succeed in the long term, not make them rich in the short term. We may never see his like again. Hopefully.

Sir Fred, banking's answer to Big Brother

When Sir Fred Goodwin, just plain old Mr back then, was pursuing the takeover of NatWest in 1999, banking correspondents would regularly be summoned across town to hear him hold forth.

That £21bn deal was the one that made his reputation – now in tatters – as the banker of the age. The FSA report doesn't delve much into his personality, thereby missing a key part of the story. You didn't have to be in a room with Goodwin for long to see that he was intense, impatient and extremely arrogant.

Anyone daring to doubt the wisdom of his next scheme was an idiot and could expect to be told as much. His PR people and even his chairman Sir George Mathewson bought into Sir Fred's certainty as evidence of his skill. No one, definitely not mere journalists, seemed able to cloud his conviction that he was smarter than everyone else.

More recently, a broker pal who worked for RBS's credit department says Goodwin had a giant screen installed so he could attend their meetings remotely. He'd sit there saying little, but would suddenly bellow Big Brother-style from the TV, "Who is that talking? I can't hear you! Stand up! Who are you?"

People who have talked to him lately say not much has changed. It's a truly extraordinary thing.

How about Exit Factor for the Cowells?

Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal, I'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel. That was Elvis Costello in 1983. Even if Simon Cowell doesn't know the song – bit arty, probably – he would understand the sentiment.

Cowell is one of those tycoons whose output is impossible to escape. It is in your local pub, in your house and in your face. Especially at Christmas. Yesterday his brother Nicholas splashed out £17m on the five-star Verta Hotel at Battersea Heliport. It's to be hoped that the hotel will be better than the music. And that perhaps one day the brothers' appetite for world domination will be sated.

What do the Cowells want? If they were to provide us with a list, could we arrange to give it to them on the promise that they then stop?

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment