Contrived contrition and a game of Banksters’ Bluff

Barclays like doing their dirty washing before anybody else does. And so it was this week when a well- rehearsed Antony Jenkins, their fresh-faced new chief executive, was pushed in front of the cameras to tell us that from now on it’s all going to be different at Barclays, that they’ve ‘learned lessons’ (if I hear that phrase once more I’ll scream – it’s bankers’ speak for ‘we’ve no intention of changing and nobody’s going to gaol, so there!’) and to apologise (only with prodding) for the appalling behaviour of the bank.

One of the best interviews with Mr Jenkins was conducted by Jon Snow (see video). Jenkins started off by apologising for his role in the PPI fraud when he was head of Barclaycard. Very nice of him, I suppose. I couldn’t help thinking that he should have been sewing mail bags in Pentonville, not sitting in a television studio.

Jenkins looked decidedly uncomfortable when pressed on the interest rate swaps scandal, and had no answer as to why Barclays had been insisting businesses service these loans despite the fact that they had known for years that they were a scam. As Jon pointed out to a spluttering Mr Jenkins, the behaviour of his bank has resulted in suicides, bankruptcies and total ruin for many. Jenkins looked decidedly uncomfortable, but his admission that his bank had been self-serving and aggressive will mean absolutely nothing to those whose lives have been ruined.

Are we to believe Mr Jenkins when he says he is going to change the culture of Barclays? Why should we? Banks have betrayed our trust. They’ve confiscated our money and paid it to themselves – and they’re still doing it. Future generations might have reasons to trust banks again: this generation never will.

My day was made on Wednesday morning when, following another interview with the said Mr Jenkins on the Today programme, Evan Davis asked David Jackman, formally Head of Ethics at the FSA (ethics at the FSA – who would have believed it!) and Julie Meyer CEO of Ariadne Capital, to comment on what Jenkins had to say.  I have transcribed what Julie said, because what she had to say about the role of banks and bankers has needed to be said for a very long time.

Welcoming what Jenkins had to say as ‘all the right words’, she went on to say:

“If we look throughout history, the role of capital has been to follow ideas. The role of the financier has been to back the industrialist of the day. Financial services went awry when it started thinking of itself as an industry. It’s not, it’s a service industry. It can create a lot more money than it has, but it has to think of that money differently. It has to think of it as helping other people make money. If it measures its success by the overall GDP of the country or by how many digital industrialists, industrialists or entrepreneurs or major firms that it helped to take the global stage: if that’s the metric of its success then it will indeed make a lot of money and Antony Jenkins will keep his job. However, if they continue to think of themselves as ‘masters of the universe’ where they’re merely playing with other people’s money, and frankly not making money, they’re just go-betweens. If the universe has rules which enable them to act as adolescents most of the time, they never have to think that hard. But if the rules of the universe are set so they actually have to deal with the things the entrepreneur and the industrialist have to deal with day in, day out, then they may understand what being a productive member of society is all about”

She went on to say:

“I think as a society we glorify bankers, and I think we have to watch ourselves because I think if we’re honest, if life were a video game, to be a white male banker would be the lowest level of difficulty. The system allows them to ‘achieve’ relatively easily and society then praises them for achieving the lowest level of difficulty.  Instead, if we were to look at the people who are really achieve, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs and industrialists, these people don’t get anywhere near the same social recognition. I think we have to ask ourselves some bigger questions. This is about people who ‘worship’ bankers, at dinner parties, at their clubs in Mayfair, and allow them to think of themselves as masters of the universe despite the fact that it’s the lowest level of difficulty.”

Spot on Julie, spot on!

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