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?

Sport
Romelu Lukaku
sportChelsea striker sends second teasing tweet of the day
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Sport
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura sprays a line after calling for a free kick for Brazil
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz