Bankers still in place after crisis are under scrutiny by Central Bank
Published 01/09/2011 | 10:56
ON a sunny day in mid-June, about 40 directors of Ireland's bailed-out banks got to their desks or kitchen tables to find a letter waiting for them from the Central Bank.
The correspondence was no surprise, but for many of them its contents were still deeply unwelcome.
Against a backdrop of unprecedented industry-wide restructuring, the Central Bank was carrying out a review of all 'pre crisis' directors to see if they'd contributed to their institutions' demise and should therefore walk the plank.
Directors in AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank, EBS, Irish Life & Permanent and Irish Nationwide were given a "couple of weeks" to tell their regulator if they planned to still be in place on January 1.
Most of those who replied in the negative have already gone quietly into the sunset.
But the "small handful" that want to hang on -- a group believed to include Bank of Ireland chief Richie Boucher, Irish Life & Permanent boss Kevin Murphy and EBS's Fergus Murphy -- are still quietly awaiting their fate.
It's been a long summer, but the directors will have to settle in for a few more months of nail-biting.
The Irish Independent understands that the Central Bank won't make a decision on whether to launch 'statutory inquiries' into individual directors until December 1, when a whole new suite of enforcement powers come into force.
Bankers won't be given the chance to plead their case between now and then; instead the Central Bank will spend the intervening months doing research on issues that have cropped up and working through the logistics of a brand new process.
December 1 will be D-Day for those given a clean bill of health, but anyone selected for further inquiry will have another few months of an even more anxious wait, because the inquiries are expected to last until well into next spring.
If any action arises out of the investigation it's likely to be swift -- the Central Bank's extended powers will allow them to immediately suspend anyone who fails, pending further legal manoeuvres.
Suspension day, if it comes, looks likely to be the first time the public gets to learn how our 'legacy' directors are faring.
There are no plans to announce who will be subject to inquiry when the process kicks off on December 1, since that could be deemed "prejudicial". The best we can hope for is details of how many inquiries are being launched.
Ridding boardrooms of tainted bankers will be a major milestone in the crisis, but it won't be the end of the line for directors who presided over such an ignominious period.
The Central Bank is already turning its attentions to the thorny issue of what happens when those former directors try to re-enter the financial industry, as many of them are expected to do.
Officials are working out an alert system, so that the Central Bank will find out when anyone on the list attempts to take up a new job in a bank, fund, insurance company or any other entity that falls under the Central Bank's regulatory regime. The approach is expected to be measured and proportionate.
A banker who presided over wild lending at a bailed-out institution is unlikely to be allowed into a senior role at another retail bank, even a foreign-owned one.
But that same banker may well be allowed make his living at an IFSC hedge fund.
One of the trickier long-term issues for the Central Bank, and Ireland generally, is whether a banker can ever be deemed 'rehabilitated' and how long that might take.
It's not just directors who are subject to the Central Bank's new corporate governance regime -- a whole range of appointments will soon need 'pre-approval' by the regulator, a process likely to take into account activities in previous employment.
Should those who were in key positions when their banks imploded have a permanent black mark against their names? Or should they at some point be deemed 'cleansed' and allowed back into the market?
By next spring we'll know the immediate fate of Ireland's most senior bankers, but we'll be waiting a lot longer to see how the broader issues around legacy bank executives will play out.