Financial Services Authority

Andrew Hill

For a breed that is rarely found, sleeves rolled up, trying to unblock the U-bend, investment bankers are remarkably fond of plumbing metaphors. Around this time of year, they usually rush to point out just how full their “pipeline” of deals is. (One optimist told the FT this week the very size of this pipeline might itself prove to be a problem.)

The implication is that if some way could be found to clear the impediments, initial public offerings and acquisitions would come pouring out. This wishful thinking leads to some sharp-elbowed lobbying for changes to rules that supposedly deter such transactions. Bankers – and, to be fair, some entrepreneurs – would, for instance, like more flexibility to bring to market companies with a lower “free float” of shares (allowing owners to retain a larger stake). Read more

Andrew Hill

If I kept crashing my car, I might well decide that I needed to keep a bigger chunk of cash available to repair it, but I would also consider whether I needed to improve my driving.

Following the same logic, regulators’ efforts to force banks to hold more capital to guard against operational risk seem to me to address only half the issue: the other half is about ensuring basic management competence at financial institutions.

As Brooke Masters writes in Monday’s FT:

Operational risk covers almost any problem – bar trading losses, bad loans and legal cases – that could damage a bank, such as the weeks of computer problems at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Yet while it may suit banks to characterise some of these operational risks as bolts from the blue – interruptions to the smooth running core business of making money from money – the truth is that most of these incidents start with simple mismanagement. Read more

Andrew Hill

The contrast between the rhetoric of James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley, and that of his Barclays counterpart Antony Jenkins – in interviews with, respectively, the FT and the BBC – underlines differing attitudes to the future of banking in the US and Europe.

In remarks squarely addressed to shareholders, Mr Gorman suggests jobs must be cut and pay curbed at Morgan Stanley; Mr Jenkins’ comments, on the other hand, are aimed directly at regulators, politicians and the general public.

That’s partly down to context – the BBC interview was filmed during a visit by the new Barclays chief executive to a UK glass manufacturer, part of Barclays’ campaign to show it is helping customers to export more. Here’s Mr Jenkins:

Barclays has a significant job to rebuild trust, but I’m also confident that we can. It goes back to what we do: if we serve customers and clients, day in and day out, in a way that people perceive as socially useful, then we will rebuild that trust.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

The greenest job applicants know that to make any sort of impression on their prospective employer they must at least know something about the company where they wish to work and the position for which they’re pitching. That lesson appears to have been lost, however, on many of the experienced hands seeking to join the boards of Britain’s financial companies.

Hector Sants – outgoing chief executive of Britain’s Financial Services Authority – used his valedictory speech on Tuesday to underline how would-be directors are failing even the most basic examination of their credentials for high office. Read more

Andrew Hill

It’s awkward enough having to hand back one leaving present from colleagues, let alone two. So I think we can all agree that, this time, Hector Sants will stick with his decision to resign as the UK’s chief financial regulator.

Mr Sants will step down as chief executive of the Financial Services Authority in June. The first time he announced his resignation – in February 2010 – he was persuaded to reverse the decision four months later by the incoming Conservative government. He agreed to preside over the transition to a new Bank of England-led regulatory regime (plans for which he’d opposed, as did I), in the expectation of becoming deputy governor. But things have changed.

In 2010, I wrote that Mr Sants had chosen the three worst years in history to run a regulator, taking over as chief executive just before the run on Northern Rock in 2007 and presiding over the watchdog in a year in which the rest of the UK banking system came close to outright collapse. I also wrote that his premature departure would destabilise the FSA. The first judgment still stands. The second – not so much. Read more