Wednesday 26 October 2016

Why do bankers need notes to tell them how to act human?

We still innocently believed banking had changed, yet the world of high finance still draws bright, arrogant young men

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

TIMELY REMINDER: Jeremy Masding, chief executive of Permanent TSB at a press conference last week, with his note to self
TIMELY REMINDER: Jeremy Masding, chief executive of Permanent TSB at a press conference last week, with his note to self

God bless our innocence. But then again, that is why you and I have not climbed to the top of the corporate ladder. The corporate world is another country. They do things differently there.

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In real life, for example, most of us go around incessantly apologising. If we cock up, which we all do all the time, our first instinct is to say sorry. Sometimes we apologise even if something may not be totally our fault, or before fault has been properly ascertained. We apologise just in case.

In the corporate world, you don't apologise, because that is viewed as an admission of weakness, and maybe an admission that you may have cocked up in some way, which might lose you your fat pay packet. So in the corporate world, you fight it out to the bitter end. Never apologise and never explain.

And when you do eventually face the press, having dragged poor distressed people as far as the Supreme Court even though you were the one totally in the wrong, you are so divorced from how human beings operate that you have to carry a note to tell you how to be, which is - "Serious, controlled, no smile."

Was Jeremy Masding, the CEO of Permanent TSB, actually worried that if he didn't carry a note with him, he would accidentally smile as he apologised last week for overcharging 1,400 customers to the point where several of them lost their homes, some of them lost investment properties and many, many more of them suffered severe distress?

Was he concerned he would lose control as he contemplated how his bank challenged the findings of the Financial Services Ombudsman about some of these poor people first to the High Court and ultimately to the Supreme Court?

Was he concerned that he would be less than serious as he thought of those four people, with their two mortgages between them that he took to the highest court in the land, only stopping when the Central Bank intervened earlier this year?

"Serious, controlled, no smile." Was he worried he would smirk as he talked about the ones who had their homes repossessed by his bank, when it was his bank's overcharging that led them to that sad pass? Was he concerned he would not be serious when he considered how some of those people had to go back and live with their parents, while others were thrown into the overheated rental market?

At what point, did he think he would lose control? When he thought about the derisory offers of compensation his bank was offering? Or maybe when he considered how no one was to blame.

Maybe he was worried he would smile, and not look serious and lose control when he pointed out that no one was really responsible for all this, that there were "serious failures" here, but that he and his buddies had inherited them.

Why did Jeremy Masding need a note to remind him what is the appropriate behaviour for a human being, when he is admitting that his institution, under his watch, continued to pursue and distress people whose lives they had ruined?

Of course fans of the conspiracy theories of David Icke might suggest that Masding needed a note to remind him how a human being should behave in these circumstances because he himself is not a human being, but a lizard, one of those Bilderbergian lizards that rule the world.

Other slightly nutty people may suggest that he is an alien, part of a secret breed of alien overlords who rule the world. Of course he is none of these things. He is just a regular guy doing his job, who has learnt the rules of corporatism.

The rules of corporatism are - There is no problem here. It's not our fault. We inherited it. I'll see you in court. I'll see you in a higher court. We will be appealing this. And then, if none of that works. There were serious failures. They are so serious that I am putting on my serious face. Look. No smiling. And see how controlled I am. I am a person, just like you, and I accept the deep gravity of this situation, as you can see by my serious, unsmiling, controlled face.

Masding and his crew may have inherited the overcharging issue, but they didn't inherit the decision, as a massive powerful corporation that had been bailed out by the public, to pursue vulnerable little people through the courts.

Can you imagine if you were in trouble with your mortgage and the Financial Services Ombudsman had ruled that the bank had screwed you over, because they had, and then you suddenly found yourself in the Supreme Court, facing down a huge corporation? Can you imagine the fear and sleepless nights?

The innocence of us regular punters is shown in the fact that we are surprised that this kind of behaviour still goes on. We thought banking must have changed, because they got caught out so badly, because they nearly ruined the world.

We thought they might have the same shame the rest of us have. And lots of them probably do. But a lot of the top guys - not Masding, but the real lizards - would need a piece of paper in front of them, prompting them to feel shame.

And even then they wouldn't know how to act shameful. They would need further prompts on facial expressions: "Do not laugh maniacally when you are supposed to be feeling shame".

Poor old Masding is right. The new post-crash generation of ­bankers, who have come in and cleaned up the balance sheets, inherited a lot of problems from their predecessors. But you have to wonder if a lot of them are that different.

You'd worry there's the same arrogance, and the same disregard for the little people.

Forget PTSB, and look at the broader banking culture. And one thing is for sure: You talk to any bright, arrogant young man these days about what he wants to do with his life, and its still high finance. And just as Wall Street became an aspirational movie rather than a cautionary tale for the generation before them, The Wolf of Wall Street has become a recruiting film for this generation.

It is the height of innocence to think that that much has changed.

Sunday Independent

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