Who should run banks?

My latest at Pieria considers who should run banks, in the light of the recent Co-Op Bank disaster:
"The hapless Paul Flowers, former chairman of the Co-Op Bank, has been arrested and charged with possession of Class A drugs. The Flowers problem comes at the end of a simply horrible year for the Co-Op, in which it was forced to withdraw its bid to take on the TSB part of Lloyds TSB, its credit rating was downgraded to junk by Moody's and the PRA imposed capital requirements on it that it was unable to meet. It admitted in its half-year accounts that it was bust and proposed a recapitalisation plan that would have stiffed 15,000 grannies, only to see it trumped by two hedge funds who made the grannies a better offer - thereby presenting the world with the extraordinary spectacle of a group of vulturesappearing considerably friendlier than the supposedly cuddly teddy bear that is the Co-Operative Group.  
"I don't intend to comment on Mr. Flowers's behaviour. The news reports speak for themselves. Though for me, the best bit was discovering that he had been chairman of a drugs charity. You couldn't make it up. 
"However, it is not Mr. Flowers's alleged criminal activities that are the main problem, nor his exorbitant expense claims, nor even his religious hypocrisy (he is a senior Methodist minister). No, the main problem is his incompetence. Among other things, in his presentation to the Treasury Select Committee he appeared to have no grasp whatsoever of the figures pertaining to the business he had been running. Jeremy Hunt asked on BBC Question Time:
"How did someone with no knowledge of banking become chairman of a bank?" "
Read on here.


  1. A bank chief who does not understand risk and especially the necessary complexity of risk is like a general who does not understand military logistics or cannot read a map. Generals like this tend to lose battles or even wars. It is not surprising that the unbanker control of banks led to disaster. The trouble when politicians are happy to put unbankers in charge of money they think that it eliminates risk, or rather people who might contradict them.

  2. Fair enough although there is the thought that banking is too important to be left in the hands of bankers.

    That thought notwithstanding, as for the FSA's approval of the hapless Flowers, I understand (have not seen verified) that it allowed his appointment only on the condition two deputy chairmen with banking knowledge were also appointed. Regulators cannot be some form of outsourced personnel department. If a bank board or its shareholders wants to appoint an individual, then it is not unreasonable to suppose they know best what is needed for their business. If nincompoops are chosen, that is a helpful early indicator that a bank is on the road to ruin and preventing the odd appointment will not likely change that.

    1. It's precisely because banking is important that I want it placed in the hands of people who know what they are doing. Too many top executives in banks DON'T know what they are doing. I think banking should be a profession, with mandatory qualifications and a career path. And I want to see an end to parachuting in top executives from other industries on the mistaken assumption that anyone with general management skills (or even people with no skills) can run a bank. The evidence - over a very long time now - is that they can't.

    2. Should have put Terry Wogan in charge, he has a banking qualification, and is a frightfully charming man. The Chairman of most companies these days are chosen for their connections rather than any inate ability for a chosen profession. the only surprise about Flowers was that he was not some chinless wonder type tory with the correct heritage and contacts in the City. This article does not address what brought the Co-Op down or any role that Mr Flowers did or didn't play. As he only joined the board in 2010 I suspect very little.

      The important thing for a Chairman is to listen to people who do know what they are talking about and let the CEO manage risk in the case of a bank. Flowers is merely a gift for the right and a matter of politics rather than corporate governance. Oh well it's pantomime season after all. finally let me offer you a further word of caution of hedge funds and especially the vulture variety.

      You have now said something nice about them in print and in relation to the Co-Op. That, as Sir Humphrey was wont to say, is very courageous. Their motives will become clear soon enough and it won't be good news for grannies. bill40

    3. Bill40,

      I have already written extensively about what brought the Co-Op down. At the end of the Pieria article you will find a link "Under the Radar", which will take you to my first post discussing the causes of the Co-Op's failure. There is also a post on Pieria itself called "The Plausible Executive and the Ruined Bank" which looks at the role of Neville Richardson, former CEO of Britannia and the Co-Op. And there are also other posts on Coppola Comment about the Co-Op saga - they aren't separately tagged at the moment, but if you click on Banks in the tag cloud that will take you to a list of posts that includes all my Co-Op ones.

      This article is not specifically about the Co-Op, nor indeed about Mr. Flowers. It is about the incompetence of top bank executives.

      Regarding the hedge funds, I know every well what their motives are. My remark about them "appearing considerably friendlier" actually links to my post "The lure of gold, the deceit of silver" which goes into some detail about those hedge funds and their motives. It is a pity you did not click that link and read the article, or you would not have taken that remark as saying something nice about them. Next time, read the links before criticising.

      Here is the link again (sorry, it's not live in comments - you will have to cut and paste into your browser).


  3. If anyone hasn't seen this already, I thought it was priceless.


  4. A very impressive piece. It left me with the nagging thought that if inappropriate people keep getting appointed to running Banks, then maybe there is a good reason, and not just the old "jobs for the boys" soft corruption.

    Maybe it's because if you appoint someone really qualified, psychologically as well as professionally, it will let the cat out of the bag about Banks being in a state of, something like unstable equilibrium.

    I've been saying for a while that the reason we have had such an extended outbreak of total nonsense on the Web about Banks for the last five years is because until 2007 people didn't understand how Banks really work, and didn't want to. So when the system seized up, they concluded that all Bankers had been impeccable Gents up to a day in 2007 when they all turned into criminals.

    They didn't, of course. It's just that after the crisis broke, and ordinary people started to get a glimmering of how banks work, they went into that state of shock and panic that leaves the public looking for villains.

    Maybe heading banks with Methodist Ministers, Accountants and Gordon Brown's friends serves the same purpose as the white Greek pillars in front of the Banks. It's to project a sense of solidity that belies the truth.

  5. Sure there are a lot of accountants who can do the job but are they prepared psychologically?


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