Scottish nationalism figured prominently in the campaign for Thursday’s UK general election. But the first true act of independence could be a move by HSBC, a bank that has never been happy in London, back to Hong Kong. The Scots expatriate clan that founded and still heads HSBC is losing patience — a virtue it never possessed in abundance — with being taxed, ringfenced and unappreciated.
Entrepreneurs tend to see regulation as the enemy of innovation and progress.
But while it is true that watchdogs can struggle to keep pace with fast-changing markets and to comprehend technology companies’ novel ways of working, it is hardly surprising they sometimes resort to random barking.
Goldman Sachs caused a bit of a stir this week by issuing an analysts’ report suggesting JPMorgan Chase might want to break itself up. I believe in the independence of investment bank research as much as the next person, but it is hard not to notice that the major beneficiary of such a step would be Goldman Sachs.
This has been the year of Uber. “Everyone is starting to worry about being Ubered,” Maurice Lévy, chief executive of advertising group Publicis, told the Financial Times this week. The sharing economy in which online platforms co-ordinate hundreds of thousands of freelancers to drive cabs, rent rooms (Airbnb), clean laundry (Washio) and perform other services has arrived.
After the spectacular chaos of the last time that regulators and governments scrambled to rescue banks in the US and Europe, they have hammered out a plan for the next time. It is better than the absence of one in 2008 but who knows if it will work?
Another week, another regulatory battle for Uber, the Silicon Valley private car hire network with a German name. This time it is in Germany, where a Frankfurt court has banned its Uber Pop “ride-sharing” service that introduces passengers to unlicensed drivers through a smartphone app.
If you are a business leader and you yearn to spearhead reforms to British bureaucracy, you have until the end of next week to apply to be the first chief executive of the UK civil service. So far, recruiting the requisite heavy-hitter is proving a struggle.
In the 1970s you could buy a hippy-ish poster of a bird flying towards a lurid sunset, with the maxim: “If you love something, set it free: if it comes back to you, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.” I assumed the slogan had expired along with a taste for joss sticks and tie-dye T-shirts. I am amazed to find it has instead become a formal human resources policy.
The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.
Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.
But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. Read more
Presumably, although he denies it, Brady Dougan considered resigning as chief executive of Credit Suisse this week when it became the first global financial institution since Crédit Lyonnais in 2003 to plead guilty to criminal felony in the US. In any case, he stayed.
Perhaps the European Court of Justice wants to equal the US Supreme Court in a display of poor judgment. That might explain why it ruled this week that a 19-year-old directive means Google must remove some search results that people do not like.
Apparently size matters in assessing business culture. The latest Populus opinion poll for the FT says 61 per cent of British voters want the party that wins the next election to be tougher on “big business”.
This result raises all sorts of questions – and not only for the political parties, which appear to be drawing up the battle-lines over how to treat business. With British elections one year away, it underlines, for example, that companies need to recalibrate their strategies to deal with political risk on the home front. It also makes me wonder how British people, let alone their elected representatives, define “big business”. Read more
Denigrate, imitate, eliminate are the three steps that incumbents typically take to see off challengers using an unconventional business model. But there is a fourth – regulate.
Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.
“Fashionable management school theory appears to have lent undeserved credibility to some chaotic systems.”
This line leapt out from the 571-page UK parliamentary review of banking published on Wednesday. It’s in the conclusion to the passage criticising the way in which banks applied the “three lines of defence” risk control framework – line managers, risk controllers and compliance staff, and internal audit. Read more
You’re about to hear a lot more about “good banks” and “bad banks”. The report from the parliamentary banking standards commission, due on Friday, and Stephen Hester’s departure from Royal Bank of Scotland will reignite questions such as whether RBS should be split into “good” and “bad” operations (Mr Hester opposed this).
Running in parallel is a philosophical debate about how you ensure banks are “good” – in the sense of having a strong, positive purpose.
But there is also the question of whether banks that do good are always good banks. Read more
It has been a frustrating week for well-intentioned and interventionist political leaders. Michael Bloomberg and David Cameron have been roundly defeated in their efforts to prod citizens into health.
Microsoft has been fined by the European Commission. Getty Images
Jaron Lanier is a “partner architect” at Microsoft but he doesn’t speak for the software company. As the scientist, composer and author explained to an audience at The Economist’s Technology Frontiers conference on Tuesday, what he says “probably horrifies any number of individuals within the company”.
Even so, in retrospect, it his hard not to read some of his remarks differently, in the light of the European Commission’s €561m fine for Microsoft, confirmed on Wednesday, for breaching a high-profile competition agreement with the European Union. Read more