Alex Brummer is to be a member of the Bank of England’s Open Forum Steering Committee looking at ‘Building Real Markets for the Good of the People’.
Britain’s response to the financial crisis and failings in the City markets that followed has been frustratingly piecemeal.
Urgent reforms clearly were necessary to plug the gaping regulatory gaps exposed by the crisis. But the responses have been organised chaos with little joined-up thinking.
MPs on the Treasury Select Committee and the Parliamentary Banking Commission sought to expose wrongdoings and propose reform.
Unlike their American counterparts, they were unable, or unwilling, to subpoena van-loads of documents. Nor have they interviewed most of the participants in the scandal under oath.
The main culprits of the two biggest collapses at the heart of the Britain’s financial crisis, the panjandrums at Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, have run rings around the regulators.
The 450-page 2011 forensic examination of why Royal Bank of Scotland failed barely mentioned the former chief executive Fred Goodwin. This is largely because his highly paid ‘magic circle’ lawyers sanitised the report to the point that it was almost worthless.
The three people most responsible for the implosion of HBOS – former chair Lord Stevenson, and former chief executives James Crosby and Andy Hornby – have done an even better job of tying the investigators in knots.
The latest ruse is to challenge ‘independent’ scrutiniser Iain Cornish on the grounds that he sits on the board of the Prudential Regulatory Authority. One might have thought that reinforced his qualifications.
Dark clouds: The 450-page 2011 forensic examination of why Royal Bank of Scotland failed barely mentioned the former chief executive Fred Goodwin
Whatever the merits of the case, the way in which the ‘HBOS Three’ have acted is demonstrable of the ethical vacuum at the core of finance.
No one is seemingly willing to take responsibility for gross errors that caused indescribable pain for investors, taxpayers and the 45,000 or so Lloyds-HBOS workers who lost their jobs.
Just to underline the disjointed nature of the process, we have also had two other reports, largely at the instigation of the LibDems, who formed part of the last government.
The 358-page Independent Commission on Banking came up with the idea of the ring-fence. HSBC is erecting it as fast as possible.
And as Business Secretary, Vince Cable – conducting his own guerrilla campaign against the banks – released the Tomlinson report, which looked at the malpractice of RBS’s Global Restructuring Group that has now been disbanded.
All this simply shows a deeply flawed process. Mark Carney at the Bank of England has, in effect, recognised the Old Lady’s mistakes in the post-crisis period and in particular the amateurish and chaotic way in which the business of financial markets has been conducted.
Markets have been, and remain, one of Britain’s most important sources of national wealth but have been run with less concern for safety and integrity than a whelk stall on Brighton seafront.
It is too much to hope that even a Tory majority government, with all its pals and funders in the City, is suddenly going to turn around and order a judicial inquiry – however welcome that might be.
So it is really useful that Carney has launched an ‘Open Forum,’ to be chaired by Bank director Andy Haldane, to look at the dreadful things that went wrong, throw light on the Old Lady’s own shortcomings and examine the fixes.
It wants accountability from firms operating in London’s complex markets and a willingness to confront the impact of their behaviour on customers and clients.
Libor fixing cheated every borrower in the nation; foreign exchange manipulation was costly for ordinary travellers and big multinational firms alike; dark pools penalise those who deal through transparent markets; energy market rigging, in a worst-case example, could lead to the elderly being frozen in their own homes.
These are practices that went unchecked for too long and were effectively condoned by those at the very top of the big banking and financial groups.
The threat of ten-year prison sentences for City sharks will help. Just as critically, all those engaged in misconduct need to recognise that, far from doing God’s work, they have been engaged in a commercial and social evil.*
So which digital newcomer has made the most financial impact in the first five years?
Is it Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? The answer, it turns out, is the prosaic taxi app Uber, which is being valued by US analysts at $50billion (£32billion) – more than 80 per cent of firms in the S&P top 500 index.
It operates in 311 cities and 58 countries using a no-frills model that must threaten all existing players, including London’s precious black cabs.
Not only that, it is now experimenting with speedy delivery services in inner cities threatening FedEx and, dare one say it, eventually the Royal Mail. Maybe the 500p share placement of Royal Mail shares wasn’t such a giveaway after all.