Saturday 22 October 2016

Charlie Weston: Bankers stunned to be told a few home truths

Published 17/10/2012 | 17:00


FIONA Muldoon does not pull her punches. The head of banking supervision at the Central Bank stood up in front of hundreds of bankers yesterday and let them have it.

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And boy, was she tough.

In fact, all she was short of doing was putting them in the corner for their bad behaviour.

Bankers were like badly behaved teenagers, she said. They have been repeatedly called on to clean up the mortgage mess they created. The mess is getting worse by the day and we are all suffering as a result.

There had been talk of solutions for heavily indebted householders for four years now, Ms Muldoon told an Irish Banking Federation conference. But nothing had happened. Instead, banks had been hoping for an economic recovery that had not arrived.

"This is the stuff of denial. Hope is not a strategy -- any more than anger," she blasted.

It was not the kind of banker-bashing the smug pinstripe types are accustomed to hearing at their own conference. Back-slapping, some self-congratulatory speeches and a glass or two of wine over lunch are the usual staples.

But when Ms Muldoon got up to speak in the posh surroundings of Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel it was obvious that she was not there to pat the bankers on the back.

Instead, they were treated to a unrelenting assault for their failure to grapple with the mortgage crisis. The only sound heard was the jaws of bankers dropping to the floor.

Ms Muldoon once commented that it is not the job of a regulator to win any popularity contests. Praise the Lord for a regulator who understands her role.

Her background as someone who worked in the US and the fact that she is a mother informs her view, her speech makes clear. She referred yesterday to our bankers constantly telling everyone how humbled they are after bankrupting the country.

We taxpayers have put €64bn into the banks and have nationalised five of them.

Ms Muldoon, who worked for years in the banking and insurance sector before becoming a regulator, said she was not interested in the notion of bankers being humbled.

The Americans make their mistakes and clean them up quickly -- an approach that would serve us better. And as a mother of two children, the director of bank supervision at the Central Bank said bankers were behaving like troublesome teenagers.

"The relationship between banking and the regulator has too often felt like a parent/child dialogue and you know what, this will not move banking out of its current difficulties," she said.

Ms Muldoon warned of a lack of leadership in the sector as she revealed that 167,000 loans (residential and buy-to-let) worth a total of €35bn are in arrears.

The banks and the economy will not recover until there is a realistic approach to the arrears mess. This will require writing off some of the debt, longer-term solutions for others and an acceptance of the arrears reality.

Our immature bankers have been warned: clean your room, or else.

Irish Independent

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