Friday 24 November 2017

'Arrogant, Incompetent Bankers' given a grilling

Reason plays second-fiddle to emotion as AIB investors tell bosses exactly what they think of them

Board members listen intently to the proceedings at which some investors vented their anger at the nationalisation of the bank
Board members listen intently to the proceedings at which some investors vented their anger at the nationalisation of the bank
Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

THEY came to yesterday's meetings already defeated, but it quickly became clear that AIB's ordinary shareholders weren't going to let a small matter like virtual nationalisation stop them from telling bank bosses exactly what they thought of them.

Former AIB staffer Niall Murphy was first up and quickly set the tone for the day: "You're smiling now," he told AIB's executive chairman David Hodgkinson, "but I don't think you'll be smiling when I've finished."

Mr Murphy swiftly launched into a 10-minute tirade against the bank's demise and the "unforgivable" plans to "squander" billions from the National Pension Reserve Fund on the latest bailout.

The theme was quickly picked up by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who called on shareholders to reject the bailout they were gathered together to vote on.

How exactly private shareholders, who own less than 7pc of the bank, were supposed to vote down a proposal supported by the Government, which owns the other 93pc, was anybody's guess, but Mr Boyd Barrett drew applause all the same.

This was a room were reason played second-fiddle to emotion, as one shareholder summed up the mood by dubbing AIB "Arrogant Incompetent Bankers".

And so it continued, as shareholder after shareholder took up arms to air grievances old and new, all of them savouring their moment in the sun, all of them apparently unmoved by Mr Hodgkinson's claim that the bank was changing and would be a force for good in Ireland.

It took Independent TD Shane Ross to point out the obvious: "This motion (on accepting the bailout) is a stitch-up ... this is a theatre."


The board went into the EGM with enough votes from the Government to win the bailout motion, the deal was done long before shareholders were asked for their tuppence worth.

With zero prospect of changing the outcome of the bailout vote, the shareholders sought their victories elsewhere.

Mr Hodgkinson came under fire for his "absurd" €500,000-a-year pay packet, and for his efforts to be allowed to breach the banking pay cap to win AIB a new chief executive of international pedigree.

The bonfire of the bosses expanded to include former AIB chiefs Eugene Sheehy and Colm Doherty, with shareholders demanding that Mr Hodgkinson write to the duo and ask them to "share the pain" by returning some of their multi-million euro pay-offs.

Mr Hodgkinson and a handful of his fellow directors were also lashed for failing to buy any shares in the bank, a charge he deftly side-stepped by claiming he had been in possession of market sensitive information since he joined AIB and was therefore prohibited from buying shares.

It certainly sounded better than admitting the obvious -- no one in their right mind would have forked out money for AIB shares after the nationalisation bell tolled in December.

AIB's "fire sale" of stockbroker Goodbody's for just €24m also came in for some shareholder attention, with Breda O'Byrne reacting with fury to the "unbelievable" admission that the bank has indemnified purchasers Fexco for future lawsuits.

"What country would put up with that?" she demanded. "It's time for us to revolt."

And revolt they did, with the overwhelming majority of ordinary shareholders voting down the bailout. It was still passed by a measure of well over 90pc.

Irish Independent

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