James Moore: Hester displays symptoms of Sensitive Banker Syndrome

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The Independent Online

It's a condition that is spreading like the plague in the steel and glass temples of London's high priests of finance. SBS – sensitive banker syndrome – appears to be as contagious as swine flu and just as debilitating. The symptoms are hot flushes and flashes of intense irritation, triggered whenever the words "bonus" or "remuneration" or "investment bankers" are mentioned. Perhaps it's because the worst sufferers have had to give theirs up.

At risk, it seems, is almost everyone working in the heart of London's financial centre who can't seem to understand why getting paid squillions after nearly destroying the economy seems to upset people.

The first indication in this results season that this new malady was serious came when Barclays president Bob Diamond rounded on journalists at Barclays' presentation of £11.6bn in profits for having dared to raise questions about the £2.7bn the company was funnelling to its investment bankers.

Mr Diamond, who gave up his bonus but still pocketed £20m through the sale of Barclays Global Investors last year, said there was "an edge" to such questions and said Britons should well, just shut up (I'm paraphrasing) and be "proud" to have such a successful bank in London.

Yesterday it was over to Royal Bank of Scotland, where chief executive Stephen Hester showed all the symptoms as he fulminated about how much money the bank (and therefore us taxpayers) would have made had RBS just been able to compete with what rivals are paying in bonuses and so hold on to his "top rated" staff.

Up to £1bn more would have been made, he claimed – only to admit that this was just a guess. He also had to backtrack on another Sensitive Banker Syndrome-prompted remark about the "politicisation" of the company, conceding that he had been wrong to "bitch" about this not least because RBS would not be here without politicians, who have injected more than £40bn of our money into the bank.

The syndrome left Mr Hester a rich shade of rouge by the end of the RBS results presentation and he apparently had to go and lie down, leaving his avuncular chairman Sir Philip Hampton, who appears not to be afflicted, to host the post-press conference chat.

Conversations with Lloyds Banking Group in recent weeks suggest that the condition has taken a firm grip over at Gresham Street, where its headquarters are based. We'll know today how badly when Eric Daniels (who like Messrs Diamond and Hester has waived his bonus) unveils another hefty loss.

Scientists are working hard on a drug to treat the affliction, which seems to have gripped the City and Canary Wharf. The treatment is codenamed SER (sustained economic recovery) and they have warned that it might take a long time to reach the market.

Until then, we can supply a dose of SBS Tamiflu in this short sentence: Deal with it.

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