Great British bankers!

The four ex-leaders of HBOS and RBS were impressive in their account of their parts in the Banking Crisis. They were smarter and more interesting than most of their questioners from the Treasury Select Committee today.

You wouldn’t expect the professional populists of parliament and the media to be very good at this moment. They are bound to pander to public outrage at the banking crisis and the recession. Still, I hope sensible people will quite soon realise that our present failures are indeed systemic. All the players failed. It follows that hoping that a few senior bankers can be lined up as fall-guys won’t wash.

I liked the way the lads who were lined up today had mostly folded their own bonuses into ownership of shares in their own banks so -as one put it – his interests were “aligned” with those of shareholders.

I liked the way hardly any of the obvious explanations for the bank failure stood up. One by one, the team showed that “the bonus culture” wasn’t all that effective in making banks short-term; that there were decent discussions inside the banks about risk; that regulators were all over them, all the time.

Maybe when I read some considered coverage of this outing, I will temper my present enthusiasm for these disgraced men.

For now, I am glad that our banks were not run by fools and were not ramshackle or chaotic. I am sure there was too much testosterone around, and I am very interested in what reforms are now needed.

But it is great news that many of the cliches about the banks and these bankers seem to be pretty good tosh.

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Publication date

10 February 2009