Friday 21 October 2016

Banking's boorish, alpha male culture has to be dismantled

Published 27/06/2013 | 17:00

LISTEN to the voices on the Anglo Tapes. No German accents there. No English or American or French inflections. These are not foreigner bankers codding Irish people – it is our own kind cheating us.

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So by all means, feel the rage. But bear in mind that it is Irish people swindling other Irish people, not sharp operators from the City of London or Wall Street sharks.

A ludicrously well-paid elite double-crossed the rest of the population, effectively dismissing us as the great unwashed. And they sprung from among us.

If we take one lesson from the Anglo Tapes, let it be this: stop blaming others for our problems and accept them as home-grown. Trouble generally starts on home turf, and that is where it needs to be dealt with. Until we face up to this truth, we will never build a society capable of functioning properly.

The unprincipled, devious, boorish, alpha male culture exposed by the recordings must be dismantled. I am not convinced it has been set aside yet. For all we know, it may be holed up for now, biding its time.

The epic machismo saturating those tapes was allowed to undermine the reputation of Irish people worldwide, and ravage the lives of Irish people at home.

How many have lost their jobs, homes and marriages in the fallout? How many have lost their lives, with suicides linked to the recession?

The executives we hear blaspheme, mock others and discuss manipulating the system for their own ends with casual indifference to any code of conduct are stereotypical – so cliched that listeners might almost imagine they are satirising their profession. It reaches cartoon-level masquerading – they sound like pimply adolescents behind a bike shed, passing round a cigarette and boasting about their mythical exploits with the opposite sex.

No one could take them seriously with their guffawing and snorting, tossing off billions here and billions there – except that it was deadly serious then and remains deadly serious.

An entire nation was sacrificed while they binged on excess.

Culture is spread from the top down, and Anglo's chief executive David Drumm, whose chest-beating pose was swiftly replaced by a clean pair of heels when he relocated to the US, epitomises everything that was amoral about Anglo's predatory ethos.

Not only did he and his cohorts trade the welfare of their fellow citizens to save their hides. Not only did they see nothing wrong with it. But Drumm fled rather than shoulder responsibility and try to clean up the mess left by his zombie bank. His behaviour is the opposite of manly, for all the machismo he exhibits on tape.

His team of bankers operated in a blinkered culture of group-think in which nobody challenged the consensus. Against hope, I kept listening for someone – anyone – to say: "Just a second, should we be doing this?"

Even when they tricked the former government into propping them up, no sense of gratitude was apparent. Instead, we hear Anglo executives deride the British and Germans, and their perfectly legitimate concerns about flight of capital into state-guaranteed Irish banks. Those countries ended up bailing out Ireland. Yet they were pilloried by Anglo's tricksters. As low as they sink in one recording, each subsequent extract shows them descend ever lower.

Little wonder that a Frankfurt newspaper yesterday recommended putting Anglo bankers, regulators and politicians into a sack and beating them with clubs until the screams of pain become unbearable.

The violence of the suggestion is despicable, of course. However, despicable too is the perfect storm of avarice, ruthlessness and deception that has been uncovered. Fat chance of moving any ESM funds in the direction of existing Irish banks now.

That greedy strain was not confined to Anglo. Back in 2008, when other governments expressed fears about Irish bankers abusing the guarantee, Michael Fingleton Jnr was caught red-handed doing exactly that.

Son of Fingers, this offshoot of the illustrious house of Fingleton worked in a London branch of Irish Nationwide. Immediately after the guarantee was introduced, he sent out an email trumpeting his building society as "the safest place to deposit money in Europe".

Irish Nationwide – later taken into state ownership – was fined €50,000 by the Regulator for this attempt to profiteer.

Now, five years on, an investigation is promised. An independent, non-political, public inquiry chaired by an outsider is certainly required to restore battered public confidence. But what we need and what we end up with may not be the same.

Fine Gael scents an opportunity to make political capital. Enda let the cat out of the bag when he used the word "collusion" on Tuesday to suggest a ready-up between Fianna Fail and the banks.

Clearly, the intention is to turn Brian Cowen into a human punchbag in an Oireachtas inquiry. The former Taoiseach was gullible, but he and his cabinet colleagues appear to have been deceived by Anglo bankers. Stupidity is not a criminal offence.

However, Fine Gael has watched Fianna Fail's relatively speedy resurgence in the opinion polls with dismay. An Oireachtas inquiry pinning all the blame on Fianna Fail is in Fine Gael's interest.

What is in the public interest, though, is not political point-scoring but a forensic appraisal of the facts. Among the facts that should be studied is precisely how much was known by senior officials from the Department of Finance, the Taoiseach's office, the Central Bank and the NTMA about the banks' solvency before the guarantee was given.

It is also in the public interest to examine whether the banking culture has really changed.

The Anglo Tapes are a shock therapy reminder of why laddishness can never be allowed to run amok again. Not through our financial institutions – not through any aspect of Irish society.

Irish Independent

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