excellent article in the Financial Times, John Gapper notes that “Banks banged together in a 20-year spree of mergers and leveraged risk-taking, while old skills were replaced by computers, have little culture left from which to rebuild.”
One cultural centre would have been the Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB), an erstwhile employer of mine. Few lamented as it morphed from what was often seen as an old boys’ network into the ‘Institute of Financial Services’ (IFS), a multi-discipline
educational establishment. It was a shame, as the CIB represented more than an old boy’s network, even if it displayed many of those characteristics.
Its ability to service banks was cut down by the mind-set of aggressive accountants who seemed to dominate financial services industry senior management in the early 2000s.
They did not seem to appreciate culture, or stability, very much. They preferred to see a chart where growth on the Y axis moved as high as it possibly could in relation to the X axis.
Like a joyrider pushing the accelerator to the floor, they rarely seemed to question the wisdom of this model. They were paid enormous amounts to maintain such growth. The 2000s were truly the decade of the accountants. Many of the decade’s low points, from
the Enron scandal to Lehman Brother’s Repo 105 accounting trick which hid the bank’s losses, to the qualifications of senior management – Fred Goodwin was a chartered accountant, not a chartered banker – were indicative of the focus on backward-looking accounting
reports, rather than forward looking risk management. Therein lies the difference between an accountant and a banker.
A bitter irony was that the accountants, having distanced themselves from a semi-independent body like the CIB, were no longer held to account. They couldn’t be disqualified from banking, as they had never been qualified.
During this period, the bolting together of various components of the financial services industry - trading, transaction banking, retail banking, derivatives underwriting, insurance - made a mockery of the risk models that each discipline had separately
developed. They exposed each division to the risks of another, without ever providing a holistic model of risk that could allow management to mitigate or hedge against risk.
It was felt by these banks that they could provide their own education and training for staff, leaving little room for a membership body with easily replicable exams, like the CIB. History tells us that those organisations left themselves wide open to many
Now Sir Richard Lambert has been asked, through the Banking Standards Review, to create a new organisation to help raise standards of competence and behaviour among bankers doing business in this country.
The project was launched in September 2013 by the chairs of Britain’s six largest banks and its biggest building society. The same banks that deserted their industry’s very own Chartered Institute, fifteen years ago, are now going to create a new one.
I would urge interested parties to give their views on how this might work