A speech by Lionel Barber, Financial Times editor, at Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge, May 1, 2014. An accompanying video can be viewed here.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I am delighted to be here tonight at Hughes Hall in the University of Cambridge. This is the prestigious City lecture, but sadly I will not be providing slides. As Lord Acton might have said, power tends to corrupt, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.
Tonight I want to talk about bankers and banking. These days, bankers are widely viewed as greedy, self-serving, amoral or actually dangerous. Estate agents, even journalists, are held in higher regard.
This past week’s kerfuffle over bonuses and remuneration at Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland is a reminder that bankers continue to be held responsible for the financial crisis and the economic calamities which followed.
Bankers appear to be living in a parallel universe, where the rewards are far out of kilter with what the rest of society can expect. This speaks to a deeper unease about inequality which explains the unlikely best-seller on economics, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
My questions tonight are: Can bankers mend their ways and their reputations? Is there a path to rehabilitation? Read more
Managers are notorious for prioritising short-term demands when they clash with long-term goals. Research in the US has shown that most executives would shy away from a value-enhancing long-term project if it caused them to miss a quarterly earnings forecast.
How companies can manage such clashes was the subject of a “Strategy Live” debate organised by the Financial Times in London this morning. Chaired by management editor Andrew Hill, the session featured senior figures from finance and industry, who spoke on a non-attributable basis under the Chatham House rule.
Participants used the example of Barclays to launch a broader debate, examining its controversial decision to increase bonuses to its investment bankers even as it – seemingly paradoxically – tried to move to a less abrasive, more long-termist culture. Read more
What is Goldman Sachs up to? The bank has been behaving strangely this week. When Michael Lewis unveiled his book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt , in which he alleged the equity market is “rigged” by high-frequency traders, the bank discreetly lent him support. Then it emerged that Goldman is leaving the New York Stock Exchange floor, selling Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, a broker it bought for $6.5bn in 2000.
Unless Euan Sutherland’s resignation letter is published in full, the context of his claim that the Co-operative Group, where he is chief executive, is “ungovernable” will remain unclear. But it is a strange declaration for any professional manager to make: cats are ungovernable; humans, however cussed and contrary, generally do respond to direction. How they are directed is another matter.
The Co-op is a strange beast, as the saga over Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers’ appointment and eventual disgrace revealed. But I think Mr Sutherland has been doing a decent job of taming it. He took some flak last month for appearing to ask Co-op members – and the general public – how the group should be run, rather than setting his own strategy. I read this, however, as a clever combination of an advertising campaign, an opinion poll, and a response to those insiders who disliked his management style. Read more
One notable statistic about Russia is that the mean wealth of its 110m adults last year was $10,980 while the median was $870. In other words, if the country’s assets were equally divided, the man in the middle would possess more than $10,000 but, in practice, his net worth is less than a 10th of that sum. This is the result of 110 billionaires controlling 35 per cent of the wealth.
Antony Jenkins’ efforts to change the culture of Barclays by cutting bankers’ pay are on hold. At its investment bank, it is paying bonuses that are 13 per cent higher to “compete in the global market for talent”. The bank’s chief executive wants to reform the pay of US and Asian investment bankers but it is beyond his contro
Following the recent news that some investment banks had decided to make working conditions more palatable for junior employees, one former intern emailed the FT a poem he wrote last summer while completing a stint at a bank.
On rings the cow bell,
Bringing cattle to their shed
Buy sell, buy sell
Work, work, work until you’re dead.
Paul Flowers: tests put the board off the scent
The idea that Paul Flowers – the disgraced former chairman of the UK’s Co-operative Bank – might have got the job largely because he aced a set of psychometric tests is, on the face of it, astonishing. As we now know, the Methodist minister had little previous banking experience and is being investigated for allegedly buying illegal drugs.
But unfortunately it is increasingly easy for executives to allow the apparent certainty of test data to overrule more subtle and more serious concerns visible to mere human beings. Read more
In the dreary annals of presentations about corporate values, ABN Amro chairman Gerrit Zalm’s recent performance for the bank’s annual cabaret as his brothel-keeping “sister” Priscilla will take some beating.
For years, getting a job at a Wall Street bank, a Magic Circle law firm or a blue-chip management consultancy was a route to a very rewarding career in return for an awful lot of work. Lately, the bargain has lost some of its appeal to the best and the brightest.
Credit Suisse is the latest investment bank to issue an edict aimed at protecting the work-life balance of its junior employees – and it is getting roasted for it by bankers themselves.
Bloomberg reported (and the bank confirmed) that Jim Amine, global head of investment banking, had decreed in a memo that “analysts and associates in the US investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 pm Friday until 10am Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal”.
So ordered. Except that commanding your ambitious junior employees to limit their workload – Bank of America, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have taken similar action – is quite likely to be useless, if not counter-productive. To change working practices requires a profound cultural shift, and judging from the reaction to the latest news that is not likely to happen soon. Read more
Few things are as alluring as optimism and Mark Carney sees the banking glass as half-full. The Bank of England governor has arrived from Canada with a dose of can-do spirit, casting off the pessimism of Mervyn King, his predecessor.
Life can be unfair and it often feels unfair even when it is not. Both JPMorgan Chase and UK energy companies such as Centrica know this feeling.
Trader A: Dude – seen the news from Markit? FT says they’re going to launch an “ambitious assault on Bloomberg’s grip on daily communications in financial markets with the start of a free viral messaging service”.
Trader B: How so?
Trader A: By bringing together the internal IM systems of Thomson Reuters, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and half a dozen other IBs, including my place and yours. Read more
Not long ago, Goldman Sachs was Wall Street’s lightning rod, attracting bad publicity and interventions from regulators. Its place has been taken by JPMorgan Chase.
Credit to Jamie Dimon for attempting to see the wood for the trees by felling some of the trees. The JPMorgan chief executive’s memo to staff makes clear that “simplifying [its] business” and “refocusing [its] priorities” is, well, a priority.
But what Mr Dimon is attempting is arguably the most complicated task known to managers of large multinationals, whether they sell food or financial services. It is dangerous to imply, as he does, that the goal of simplification can be achieved, once and for all, by “recognising our problems, rolling up our sleeves and fixing them”. Read more
If ousted Danske Bank chief executive Eivind Kolding’s controversial advertising campaign persuaded any customers to take their accounts elsewhere, that is some achievement. Bank customers are reluctant to change banks regardless of what the advertising says.
I may be an extreme case – I have been with the same bank for 35 years – but international studies suggest I am not unusual. A worldwide survey last year by EY, the professional services firm, found that just a third of customers had ever changed their main bank.
Of course, Mr Kolding’s aim was to persuade customers to put their money in his bank rather than to take it out. The problem was that the Danske Bank ad (“A new normal demands news standards”), which featured, among other things, street rioters, Occupy campaigners and crumbling icebergs, was a category error. Read more
British bank customers are hearing a lot about a 19th-century Scottish cleric called Henry Duncan, who opened the world’s first savings bank in 1810, from Lloyds Banking Group and TSB, the latest descendant of the good vicar’s pioneering idea.
But the origins of “new TSB” are less inspiring than those of its ancestor. It is the brand attached to bank branches the European Commission has forced Lloyds to separate out as a condition of the group’s post-crisis government bailout. In due course, Lloyds is expected to float TSB on the stock market. Read more
I’m intrigued by the possibility that the civil trial of Fabrice Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs banker, may hinge on whether an email to his girlfriend was a love letter or an injudicious admission that he was misleading investors about the complex mortgage-related securities he was selling.
The lead attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission said at the opening of the civil hearing on Monday that it was the latter. Mr Tourre’s lawyer asked the jury to put the language of the communication down to “youthful arrogance” and said it was “an old-fashioned love letter” to his girlfriend, who was a Goldman co-worker. Read more