Wednesday 17 July 2019

Noonan casts our votes for UK banking insiders

THE GREAT UNWANTED: Richard Pym and Archie Kane will both get the nod from Michael Noonan this week
THE GREAT UNWANTED: Richard Pym and Archie Kane will both get the nod from Michael Noonan this week
Archie Kane

Shane Ross

This week Michael Noonan has a chance to redeem all his past sins. He could make an epoch-breaking statement. Sadly, he has already blown it.

On Tuesday, AIB holds its AGM at Bank Centre, Ballsbridge.

On Wednesday, Bank of Ireland follows suit at the O'Reilly Hall, UCD.

Are you a shareholder? Turn up and join me there. Watch another shareholder - Michael Noonan - making history.

Unfortunately Michael will make the wrong sort of history. The Minister for Finance is about to cast your votes and mine in favour of the banks, the bankers, the insiders and the persecutors of standard variable-rate mortgage holders. A defining week in the history of Irish banking is about to be witnessed.

The bankers have finally won. The old culture will be confirmed. Bank reform will be exposed as a shallow shell. It will be crushed, not by the big institutions, but by the ultimate insider, the instrument of the bankers' restoration - the Irish government.

Michael will send his representative along to the big banks' AGMs on Tuesday and Wednesday, not to explain, speak, or even vote... merely to monitor. The minister has already cast his proxies behind every single resolution of the rotten boards. Each vote is already stitched-up.

What is Michael voting for?

Let's start with Tuesday's AIB gig. First and foremost, Michael will be sealing the appointment of a man called Richard Pym as the new chairman of AIB. Michael's 99.8pc holding will back Richard.

Pym has been marketed by AIB as the former boss of the UK's sweet-smelling Co-operative Bank. The phrase 'Co-op Bank' has a soft ring about it - different from the others, positively philanthropic, almost socialist. Richard suddenly sounds like the poor man's banker. Welcome 'Pym the Pauper' to AIB.

The vacant chair at AIB was not advertised. Pym the Pauper was picked; but a bit of googling reveals that Michael is installing an arch-insider, a banker who was ridiculed at the UK parliament's hearings on the banking crisis.

Pym is the man who unfortunately pronounced a former employer - his beloved basket-case Bradford & Bingley mortgage bank - a "strongly capitalised bank" two days before the UK's Financial Services Authority pulled the plug and launched a rescue bid.

Pym is the man who, earlier in his career, as chief executive of Alliance and Leicester (A&L), approved 100pc mortgages at the height of the boom. He left A&L - just before the credit crunch - tottering on the verge of collapse. In 2008 it was exposed, crippled by bad debts - many incurred under his stewardship.

A&L was ultimately rescued by the Spanish giant, Santander.

A bit more googling reveals that Pym the Pauper is a veteran beneficiary of juicy share options, bonuses, six-figure pensions and seven-figure take-away packages in the UK.

He has left a trail of disaster, namely Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester, in his wake. No doubt Noonan considers these two decrepit outfits suitable training grounds for our own basket case, AIB.

Perhaps Noonan extracted a good deal from Pym the Pauper? Perhaps the UK banker is working for nothing?

On page 181 of the annual report the small print reveals that Richard is no philanthropist. Incredibly, the former boss of two of the UK's biggest banking failures, B&B and A&L, commanded an increase in directors' fees when he landed in Ireland. The AIB chairman's fee has been raised by €90,000 to entice the UK banker. His predecessor, David Hodgkinson, received €275,000 a year. Pym the Pauper is being given €365,000.

Michael Noonan is voting in favour of the AIB remuneration report on Tuesday. The Government supports increases in bank directors' fees.

No doubt Pym the Pauper felt compelled to demand more than double the exorbitant €150,000 annual fee paid to AIB deputy chairman Michael Somers. He is a great favourite of the Minister. So favoured is Somers that he never has to seek re-election to his three-grand-a-week gig. He is a "government appointee". So much for a change in the banking culture down at AIB.

Perhaps things will be different at Bank of Ireland on Wednesday? Maybe the Minister will be a dissident shareholder, as he only holds a minority (14pc) stake.

Wednesday will tell all, but the Minister has already cast his proxy in favour of the Bank of Ireland board's resolutions. First up for re-election is Pym's rival, Bank of Ireland chairman Archie Kane. Noonan is casting taxpayers' and citizens' votes in favour of the Scot.

Not great timing. News broke about the hapless Kane a month ago: Kane, who was surplus to requirements at his last big job at Lloyds Bank, suffered his fourth unfortunate episode in four years. His former employers have clawed back his deferred bonus for the fourth year in a row.

Kane, the kingpin of Lloyds' insurance arm for many years, was awarded a €907,000 deferred bonus in 2010. Unfortunately the emergence of a multi-billion mis-selling scandal in the same Lloyds' insurance division has caused the new Lloyds' board to claw back his deferred bonus every year since his departure. It has been an annual humiliation across the water for Kane - but not humiliating enough to prevent him from offering himself for re-election at the Bank of Ireland.

Nor enough to persuade Michael to give him the thumbs down.

Your votes and mine will be cast by Noonan in favour of re-electing Kane. Worse still, he will be voting on our behalf for the Bank of Ireland's chief to receive €490,000 a year - that's ten grand a week.

Perhaps Kane has hidden talents? Significantly, the annual report leaves a box for every B of I director to declare his or her other external appointments. After Archie's name the word "None" appears.

The UK's unwanted banker has become Ireland's biggest banking fish.

Noonan will be casting the nation's votes in favour of re-electing all the other wretches on the board of the Bank of Ireland. These include big beast Richie Boucher, the chief executive who has somehow survived the crisis, the collapse and the controversies. Noonan will be approving Boucher's outrageous €843,000 pay package next Wednesday. Noonan, Boucher, Kane and Pym are all in the same loop.

Noonan's support of these unworthy men and women is not simply a personal pat on the back for the directors. He is giving a ringing endorsement to their policies, including their unforgivable exploitation of standard variable-rate mortgagors.

Last week, AIB chief executive David Duffy told an Oireachtas committee that Noonan had never spoken to the board or management about the standard variable victims. He was a 99.8pc shareholder with an "arm's length" relationship. He had never even pleaded the victims' case, despite the patently unfair hole into which they have been jettisoned.

Last Thursday, Dermot Gleeson, one of Richard Pym's recent predecessors at AIB, appeared at the Banking Enquiry. Richard's absurd annual fee of €365,000 is eclipsed by Dermot's €475,000 at the height of the boom - but the culture is unchanged. Pym was earning Gleeson-type megabucks in the UK banking boom, but escaped A&L just in time, finally landing in Ireland, a nation rapidly becoming a rich refuge for British ex-bankers. He joins AIB, a big bank reverting to type, making common cause with Archie Kane to restore the old ways of the ancien regime.

The nakedly plutocratic Kane and Pym the Pauper are our most expensive, unwanted British imports - both indulged by a Minister for Finance dazzled by financial institutions as they return to power.

If you do not believe me, turn up at the AGMs on Tuesday or Wednesday to observe the carnage.

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