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
There are plenty of interesting ironies raised by the news that investment banks are charging asset managers up to $20,000 an hour for access to chief executives, often unbeknown to the executives themselves.
One is that chief executives themselves are no strangers to “cash for access”. It’s a perennial political “scandal” that big corporate donors to political parties get to rub shoulders with the prime minister or his cabinet at private parties and dinners. The last time such a hoo-ha erupted, in 2012, the FT wrote that prominent City figures were “bemused at the outrage” surrounding the affair, describing it as “a healthy part of the democratic process”. One said: Read more
As politicians, members of the European Parliament are justifiably proud of the bonus cap they have agreed to impose on bankers. They seem to have found a politically expedient, legally watertight, electorally popular way to use their limited powers to whack high finance where it hurts. That doesn’t mean that the measure, if confirmed, won’t have potentially grave consequences.
It will increase banks’ fixed costs, weaken the link between pay and performance, accelerate the inevitable drift of financial know-how and power from Europe to Asia, and instantly conjure up a thousand more complex, lawyer-driven alternative compensation structures to get round the rules. Read more
What strikes me about the findings of the UK Competition Commission’s inquiry into the audit market is that in a world of ever more rapid change, a company’s relationship with its auditor is now often the oldest fixture in the boardroom.
Think about it. The commission says 31 per cent of blue-chip FTSE 100 companies have had the same auditor – almost invariably one of the “Big Four” – for 20 years or more. During that period, on average, most companies will have changed their chief executive at least four times, their non-executive board members (assuming replacement at the nine-year mark, when they lose their independence according to UK guidelines) twice, and their computer systems probably five or six times. Read more
If I were a mastermind seeking to undermine the City of London, I would shift Germany’s financial centre from Frankfurt to Berlin, just as the country moved its political capital from Bonn in the 1990s. Then it would be part of a cosmopolitan city where foreign bankers and lawyers might actually want to live.
Adam Posen’s attack on the management and culture of the Bank of England may be the strongest yet, but it is by no means the first – and won’t be the last – criticism of a persistent and dismaying lack of robust governance at the UK central bank.
What is astonishing is that despite countless warnings – three independent reviews, several newspaper editorials and sundry MPs’ warnings – the central charge that the governor is over-mighty and under-governed still stands. Read more
Some years ago, when I was the media editor of the FT, I used to deal with one David Cameron, the public relations executive of Carlton, a large broadcasting company. Since then, Mr Cameron has become prime minister of the UK while I have stayed roughly where I was.
The saga of Florida’s “hanging chads”, which prolonged the disputatious US presidential race of 2000 well beyond polling day, also left corporate America hanging.
Like a man with a broken umbrella trying to hail a cab in a downpour, the maker of the famous black London taxi is clinging to its last shreds of hope. Last week Manganese Bronze announced it was no longer a going concern and intended to appoint administrators.
Next week, the Financial Services Authority is due to announce tighter listing rules to deter abuses by London-listed companies. There is cause for disquiet: this week’s implosion of Bumi , the Indonesian coal-mining group part-owned by Nathaniel Rothschild, the financier, follows governance wrangles at the Kazakh-focused Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation.
The “fit and proper” test is regulators’ and professional associations’ tool of choice for assessing suitability for office – a spirit-level for acceptable conduct.
Asked to choose between government intervention in the delicate business of innovation and government withdrawal from the field, I always used to plump for the latter.
Barclays may rue having declared its involvement in the Libor lending rate scandal first, but as a consequence it has had first choice of “City grandees” to replace its chairman, Marcus Agius. The bank has managed to land the grandest of those grandees, Sir David Walker.
Author of the Walker report on governance in the financial system (probably the most downloaded document at Barclays’ HQ this week), Sir David is the squeaky-clean face of the old word-is-my-bond City of London, with experience on both sides of the regulatory fence. In 2009, he was one of five wise heads appointed by the Financial Services Authority to vet senior appointments to UK financial institutions (it might be interesting to know just how many of the current and outgoing crop of Barclays’ senior management he helped to approve). If you’re in doubt about what a grandee is, or whether you are one, take my patented multiple-choice questionnaire, published at the time. Read more
The sense of shock in London about the allegations levelled against Standard Chartered goes well beyond the stock market where – as of mid-morning on Tuesday – the shares were down by nearly a quarter.
The group is virtually the only large UK bank not to have suffered serious reputational damage over the past five years. That’s partly because its operations are mostly outside the UK and other developed markets, partly, the bank would say, because of its strong culture.
As a result of that unique position – and the high reputation of its senior management — it was the safe harbour of choice for government ministers and their advisers in autumn 2008, when the rest of the UK banking sector was on the brink of collapse. The recapitalisation and rescue plan for the industry, later copied elsewhere, was cooked up in its boardroom, with the help of its top executives, generating a mass of laudatory coverage. Read more
Nearly four years after the Wall Street bailout, the beneficiaries of the US government’s support are battered and unpopular, but still in business. Meanwhile, the regulators that rescued them are in trouble.
“I can’t be confident about anything after learning about this cesspit” – Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, to the House of Commons Treasury committee, July 9, 2012.
Paul Tucker’s disgust at the Libor rate-rigging scandal (echoing business secretary Vince Cable) sent me back to records of the last time a foul stench of rottenness overwhelmed the UK parliament: the “Great Stink” of 1858. In that year, the smell of raw sewage, decanted into the Thames through overburdened sewers, reached the Palace of Westminster. It prompted emergency debates on “the state of the Thames”, in which R.D. Mangles, MP, told the House of Commons (as reported by Hansard): Read more
Jeff Bezos is famously smart but I wonder whether he has thought through all the political implications of Amazon’s strategy of becoming back-office ecommerce infrastructure provider to the world.
The first part of FT colleague Barney Jopson’s series on the etailer was full of insight, but it was the comparison between Amazon and investment banks that struck me most forcefully. As Barney writes:
One investment banker says Amazon’s position is reminiscent of Goldman Sachs’ dual role as a broker and trader at the centre of capital markets. “People complain about conflicts of interest. But you still have to do business with them.”
Like Goldman and others, Amazon has set out to simplify the life of its clients, so they can concentrate on what they do best. One business identified by the FT investigation – RJF Books and More – has delegated the “selling, shipping, customer service, payments and complaints” functions to Amazon, which left me wondering what else was left for RJF to do. Simplification was a strong theme of my recent trip to Silicon Valley, where countless start-ups, and a few larger businesses like NetSuite and Salesforce.com, are offering businesses the opportunity to “plug in” their operations to outsourced back-office services and payment systems. Read more