Co-operative Bank

Andrew Hill

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. 

Andrew Hill

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. 

Andrew Hill

(Photo: Bloomberg)

The unfolding Co-op bank fiasco is a brutal reminder that choosing a particular business form – co-operative, mutual, limited partnership, listed company – is no proof against management or governance disaster. But more businesses should look at the variety of business forms available – and consider switching if their purpose changes. 

Andrew Hill

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.