The end of Banker Bashing?

The end of Banker Bashing?

There has been much written and said about whether we are seeing the end of ‘Banker Bashing” as though it was a sport akin to culling excess numbers of rapacious Arctic deer. Those seeking to curtail this activity or to turn ‘Banker Bashing’ into something disreputable or unfashionable have, of course, a clear agenda. “Let’s go back to vowing we will kill all the lawyers first.” Banker Bashing cannot be so lightly dismissed. It came about for a reason. The banks had failed to do what their customers expected of them. Instead of safeguarding their clients’ money they had lost and, in several cases, stolen it.

Verbally abusing people is generally ineffective. They weather the wordy storm and jingle the change in their pockets that resulted from their wrongdoing. If they feel guilt, a couple of shots eases the sensation. I am told you cannot hang or imprison all the guilty bankers though someone has yet to explain to me logically why not. The opprobrium attaching to bankers has driven many of them out of the system, anyway. I suspect they were the better bankers. So our bashing may have actually compounded the problem.

Mostly their punishment has been fines and tougher regulations. Since the fines normally attach to the bank not to the individual they are paid by a combination of shareholders and customers, the people who were wronged in the first place. As an exercise in illogicality I have yet to see better. ‘I sin, you pay’ is not what the patient public wanted, or deserved. It is heinous and reprehensible. A banker who steals from his clients should be bankrupted.

Tougher regulation will also compound the problem. First it will cost a great deal of money. Clients and shareholders cough up again. Second, tougher regulations will inevitably be slower than the cleverest thieves. Some bankers see regulations as a challenge, something to be got round. A bit like the emissions tests from car exhausts. It’s in the culture and will remain there until a combination of retraining and severe punishment drive it out.

Anyone who says that the culture of the finance world cannot be changed is talking through his hat. There are many good and decent people in the finance business. Unfortunately, they seem to get lost, or, more likely, absorbed, when they join the big banks. Their KPIs take over from their consciences. They do what they are told, not what they know to be right. They hate their bosses and companies for forcing them to do so. In the end they hate themselves for giving in.

Can our regulators and legislators now get serious about straightening out the banking culture? If not, the people affected will come and steal their money. Then we shall see which foot the boot is on.

The carrot has never worked without the stick. What makes them think it will this time?