Diamonds are forever

The pugilistic and bruising confrontation between Ed Balls and George Osborne yesterday took on gladiatorial dimensions in the battle to determine what type of banking inquiry should be held. What was really at stake is how much they could blame each other for what has gone wrong.

The pugilistic and bruising confrontation between Ed Balls and George Osborne yesterday took on gladiatorial dimensions in the battle to determine what type of banking inquiry should be held. What was really at stake is how much they could blame each other for what has gone wrong.

Of course the Bankers are subject to universal condemnation, and to a significant degree the profession to which I belong has brought calamity on itself.

There has been time enough to overhaul professional conduct standards and controls, but with the industry seemingly unable to self regulate solutions will be imposed.

One of the extraordinary features of the intense vilification of bankers by parliamentarians and the press is the high minded and righteous calls for better moral conduct. Remarkable when you think these guardians of the nations conscience only a short while ago were in the stocks for fiddling expenses on an industrial scale, and found to be utterly corrupt and ruthless in their pursuit of the voyeuristic exposure of intimate aspects of private lives, even sinking to involving the families of dead children.

Some would say you shouldn’t condemn the whole just because a sizeable minority was behaving badly. I would agree, but then ask why do we condemn an industry employing hundreds of thousands of decent hardworking people.

Banking does need cultural change; it doesn't need more regulation.

Along with the nuclear industry, banking is probably the most heavily regulated activity on the planet. What it does need is for boards and executive management to show leadership, to cease obsessing over quarterly analysts reviews and rules based compliance reports. The former drives wrong behaviour, and the latter fails to detect it.

Boards and particularly CEOs set the cultural tone in organisations and the parameters for ‘how we do things around here’, they need to be strong enough to deliver fair value for the shareholder and strong enough to resist the clamour of the analysts for ever higher, ever faster returns. When that clamour drives the organisation to unsustainable growth trajectories with all of the errant behaviour that goes with them, it is only a matter of time before things go wrong.

The introduction of integrity and ethics committees into board structures, incorporation of fair tax policies into corporate and social responsibility objectives, and the implementation of sustainability checks into remuneration systems would all serve to ensure that not only are the actions of employees legal, but that they are ‘right’.

Right for the long term future of the company, right for the shareholder in delivering sustainable returns and right for the community who benefit from the services they provide, and from whom profit is ultimately derived.

Is this the last we will see of Bob Diamond?...….I think not.

He did build an incredibly successful investment bank and I for one don’t believe it is all built on sand.

Whatever his next incarnation, let us hope that Bob and his peer group of bank CEOs can effect real and lasting change for the better.

If in future we can ask not only is it legal, but also is it right, we will all be in a better place.

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