It’s good to talk

Marc Shoffman

The MPs and peers, who are trying to formulate a sense of standards and ethics in the sector, have been met with brick walls and shrugged shoulders.

As an example, this week the commission has heard from former British Bankers’ Association boss Angela Knight, several ex-UBS executives and the FSA.

The main line of questioning was how the Libor fixing scandal was not spotted and why no individuals are ever held responsible for failings.

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The standard response was either, “it was not my department,” or “I raised concerns behind the scenes but cannot tell you what I said or who I said it to.”

This seems like a very British reaction. Regulators in America boast about launching investigations and celebrate any scalps they get, with no pontificating about the consequences.

Last year HSBC and Standard Chartered paid settlements to US authorities over allegations about money laundering. Before the settlements, anyone could access documents that detailed the allegations. There were no behind closed doors meetings or people shifting responsibility. Both financial institutions are still standing.

Yet ask the FSA what it is pursuing in the UK on Libor or bank failures, and there is a wall of silence.

The UK has a lot to learn from the US in regulation.

It is like watching the London Underground during rush hour. Commuters will pack onto a tube in silence and only when a brave traveller shouts, can you move down please, will anyone make space. Pregnant people even have to wear a badge now to hint at their fellow humans that they should be able to sit down.

The financial services sector is moving towards more transparency with reforms such as the retail distribution review, but the tone comes from the top. If what the commission is hearing is right, senior figures among those who regulate and are regulated are just not interested in knowing what goes on beyond the end of their blackberry.

If those with influence spoke up publicly about concerns and shared information, instead of whispering politely, perhaps the train wreck we are now in would not have been so bad.