Monday 19 February 2018

The weakest link was Finger's Nationwide

Irish Nationwide was cheered from the rafters as it lent money to high-rolling developers

Michael Fingleton
Michael Fingleton

Tom Lyons and Gavin Sheridan

Pound for pound Ireland's worst financial institution – Irish Nationwide Building Society – ended up costing the taxpayer €5.4bn.

Led by the goateed banker Michael Fingleton and chaired by professor of banking Michael Walsh, it exuded power during the boom.

Its members cheered the society from the rafters as it lent millions to high-rolling property developers – even while it relentlessly pursued small borrowers who fell into arrears.

How a small building society ended up costing the Irish taxpayer so much money is forensically examined in the best-selling Fingers by Tom Lyons and Richard Curran, which was published by Gill & McMillan.

The Anglo Tapes provide an insight into how, in a world of banks gone mad, the Irish Nationwide Building Society always maintained its own special place in the toxicity league.

As the crisis deepened, it was obvious to international investors that the society was finished.

It would take the State some months after the bank guarantee to realise this error to the taxpayer's cost.

John Bowe (JB), as he often does in the Anglo Tapes, sees the crisis much clearer than Ireland's authorities.

In this extract from the Anglo Tapes he discusses with an unnamed English Fund Manager (FM) Irish Nationwide in the months before the bank guarantee.

FM: I guess our fear is really that they [Irish Nationwide] are the weakest link and that if something bad happens to them then the rumours spread... so it impacts your bonds, your spread, you know, and I know it's totally difference but it's just an Irish name.

JB: No, no, I get it... I think you're right, I think the Regulator had it on his radar and my guess is, my personal opinion without insight is, that they will look to do something within the next six months to sort of stabilise, I suppose, the threat and consolidation I think can happen.

FM: Do you think the Irish Nationwide management, from what you've read about them and things, get it, because we've met them and, to be honest, things are terrifying.

JB: Well when you said management I was a little bit lost there, I wasn't sure who you were talking about – I mean they have a very strong personality in their CEO and it's difficult to see what the management team is beyond that, so if you're asking me does Mr Fingleton get it? I don't know, I really don't know. You know the guy is in his 70s.

FM: Yeah, he's pretty old.

JB: Pretty old, he's a very wealthy man... and he's got an inordinate amount of money paid into his pension scheme – he's looking to cash out, that would be my view. I'm not expressing an Anglo view, it's just a personal view.

FM: As is my view on this, I guess a lot of people probably share that view.

JB: So my guess is that might be one where the Regulator takes a stronger hand.

Irish Independent

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