Tuesday 16 July 2019

New banker accountability rules will be a win-win for lawyers

'This time round the Central Bank wants to have enforceable codes of conduct which would enable the regulator to go after individuals who either take excessive risks or break the rules' (stock picture)
'This time round the Central Bank wants to have enforceable codes of conduct which would enable the regulator to go after individuals who either take excessive risks or break the rules' (stock picture)
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

Bankers won't exactly be quaking in their Italian leather shoes at the news that the Cabinet was discussing new legislation to make them individually accountable for their actions.

After all there is many a slip between lip and cup. In this case, the Government is discussing the heads of a bill which is aimed at assuaging concerns at the Central Bank about the need for more powers. There is still a long way to go before we would see the first enforcement case stand or fall in the courts.

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Either way it will be a win for the lawyers as senior bankers will seek personal advice before they choose the new carpet colour for the office.

How many times have we heard there was "systemic" failures at Irish banks, whether it was around reckless lending or more recently the tracker mortgage scandal.

This time round the Central Bank wants to have enforceable codes of conduct which would enable the regulator to go after individuals who either take excessive risks or break the rules.

However, the tracker mortgage scandal did not involve excessive risk. In fact it was about reducing risk for the bank at the expense of the customer. It is debatable also the extent to which individuals at banks broke rules in the tracker scandal.

Yet it was indeed a scandal because banks (or should I say individual bankers) made decisions which shafted their customers by failing to or deliberately not providing them with a full set of alternative options.

Was it scurrilous behaviour? Absolutely. Did it contravene rules? The Central Bank is fining banks for it, so something wasn't legally right but no individuals have been held to account.

There remains something of a grey area about the decision-making of senior bankers across the sector and the early response of the Central Bank to the situation. The regulator adopted a much tougher tone later on but in the early days banks didn't seem to think they were breaking any rules.

The new individual accountability regime when it is finally introduced will be an important regulatory tool and it is more likely to encourage bankers to take a more cautious stance on decisions. Bankers are also likely to spend a lot more money on professional legal and regulatory advice. It is unlikely to deter too many bankers from remaining in the profession but they will be more cautious about covering their asses when important decisions are being made.

It will be interesting to see how the legislation finally takes shape after a consultation period and any amendments that may go through.

Similar legislation has already been enacted in the UK and the Financial Conduct Authority is taking a pretty robust stance with reports of lots more probes being conducted.

As for the Irish banking crash, would such legislation have prevented it from happening? The Nyberg report into the banking collapse found that bankers had essentially misjudged risk in how they went about their business.

If they misjudged risk to a level that it was deemed "reckless" then laws like this probably would have reined them in before things got out of hand. But we should bear in mind, the regulator never shouted stop when it came to misjudging risk. It takes two to tango.

LinkedIn plan shows how hot the jobs market has become

If proof was needed that the jobs market is getting pretty tight in Dublin, you only have to look at the LinkedIn jobs announcement. The company is planning to hire another 800 staff in the next year or so bringing its total staff numbers in Ireland to 2,000.

The head of LinkedIn's Irish operations, Sharon McCooey, said the company plans to renew its 'Returnin' programme which provides extra allowances, training and assistance to people who are returning to the workforce after taking extended breaks to care for children or other family members.

LinkedIn says it has 100 job vacancies right now and the 'Returnin' incentives will be open for all of them. This is quite a leap from its initial trial of the project when it piloted the programme in 2018 with just 10 jobs.

McCooey has linked the initiative to the full employment that currently prevails in the economy.

This comes as IDA Ireland said it had secured 140 investments during the first half of 2019, with 13,500 jobs expected to be created as a result. That represents a 19pc increase on the same period of last year.

This is a very strong performance, partially helped by Brexit. IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan warned about not taking our FDI success for granted in the short- to medium-term, but the labour market is starting to get very tight, especially in Dublin and especially given housing costs in the capital.

Dublin is creaking. Expect it to creak some more.

Paisley aims at wrong target in tourism debate

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr was making the case for Belfast International Airport at a sitting of the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster. This was the second time in two months he suggested the airport was getting short-changed on tourism promotion by entities south of the Border.

During the week he tackled the head of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, reiterating claims by a Belfast International Airport executive that the airport is not supported by Tourism Ireland.

Gibbons rejected the suggestion and the claim that his agency gives preferential treatment to the Republic of Ireland over the North.

Gibbons pointed to Northern Ireland's tourism success since Tourism Ireland was established in 2002 and the fact that it doesn't support airports directly, but the airlines that fly into them.

He also pointed out that the chief executive of Belfast International Airport is on his board.

Last month Paisley was having a pop at Dublin Airport for advertising at Belfast International. Showing a bizarre lack of understanding of the basics of international tourism and advertising, Paisley accused Dublin Airport of poaching tourists arriving at Belfast with these advertisements.

He failed to appreciate that once foreign tourists have arrived in Belfast, they are hardly going to head to Dublin Airport for the craic. The ads are clearly aimed at encouraging Northerners to fly out of Dublin instead of somewhere else, like, well Belfast, to their final destination.

Paisley failed to mention that in 2018 Belfast International Airport made a £4,000 donation to his constituency association. The airport defended its sponsorship of the North Antrim DUP dinner at the time, saying it supported "all our political parties where it is clear the events they organise, or are a part of, are to the benefit of the airport".

Foreign property investors - good news or bad?

The Central Bank has warned that the dominance of offshore money in Ireland's commercial property market creates new risks it will import boom-bust cycles.

The idea is that with all of this international investment capital underpinning the property market, if major funds decide to or have to sell, it could trigger sharp falls in property prices.

Surely not having all this foreign capital in the mix would leave the country more vulnerable in the event of a property crash? One economist says it is good to have so much international investor money because it is a buffer if prices soften. The Central Bank seems to conclude the level of foreign money is actually part of the problem.

It looks like a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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