Some City folk are beginning to feel a little guilty

Thursday 12 July 2012 09:43 BST

Is the City ashamed of itself? If you include the folk at Canary Wharf that's around 400,000 people and it's a mistake to assume they all think alike. But perhaps for the first time, it is possible to conclude that the answer is yes, a bit. Not riven with self doubt. Not so appalled at their own behaviour they are quitting to retrain as teachers, but a bit uneasy. Wondering if the path they have chosen is the right one, more than ever before.

Battered and a little beleaguered, hated across the land, some are reluctantly coming around to the view that they may even deserve it.

The latest round of banker bashing feels different to the earlier ones. It was easier before for City folk – many of them aren't bankers in the strictest sense, but that's what they all get called in the press – to feel distanced from crises and scandals.

Sub-prime mortgages were a mostly American problem. We had Northern Rock, but that was piddling by comparison to what went on over there, to what caused the credit crunch and all that followed. Lehman Brothers went under because of mistakes it made on Wall Street, not here.

And bankers in the City don't see themselves as remotely connected to Greeks living beyond their means or Spanish over-borrowing binges.

It's been possible thus far for the City to think that the attacks in the news from MPs and the public were about some other group of people. 'I wasn't in the room when that happened, don't look at me,' they said.

The Barclays Libor scandal has dented this assurance a bit. This is a fundamental part of the financial world that even has "London" in it's name. And it was fiddled, plain as day.

One banking veteran admitted over lunch yesterday that he's feeling uncomfortable. "It's getting harder and harder to say, well that wasn't me, or that's not us. It feels very close to home," he said. "I'm looking at colleagues in a different light." Might this embarrassment provoke a change of behaviour? Probably not, largely because of the financial crisis they are blamed for causing.

Most finance workers are pres-ently fearful for their job and with good reason. Sackings are frequent. That 400,000 is shrinking in number by the day.

Bankers have mortgages and lifestyles acquired in the good years like everyone else, and the pressure to deliver commissions and profits is higher than ever.

This must mean more shortcuts, more scheming, rather than less. If a new set of rules do emerge from the fracas, that will just throw up new opportunities for getting around them. Perhaps it's some consolation that at least some of them are starting to feel bad about ripping the rest of us off. They seldom did before.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in