Comment: Dashing Iberian now sings praises of boring
ANTONIO Horta-Osorio, the Lloyds Banking Group boss, is showing few signs of any lingering weariness following his enforced lay off through exhaustion last year.
Not only that, but the man famous for his long working days and turbo-charged approach to the job is now challenging his peers to help him to re-energise the sector.
To some extent, last night’s veiled apology to the CBI Scotland dinner for the errors of the past, and his promise that the banks will embrace change, was a little predictable. After another summer of scandals he would not have got out alive if he had tried to defend the indefensible and turned his address into a 15-minute sales pitch.
He also knows full well that the banks are still finding their way out of the woods, with more negative headlines waiting to be written. Lloyds is among those expecting a substantial penalty over the Libor-rigging scandal and the public generally remains deeply unforgiving towards bankers.
That said, he was justified in pointing out that Lloyds was the first to offer compensation for the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and that it proposed plans that would make it easier for customers to switch banks, a system that will come into effect next year.
He was at pains to distance Lloyds from the much-tarnished investment banking model, repeating several times that his was a “retail and commercial bank”. He now says that Lloyds not only supports the introduction of ringfencing that will separate functions, recommended by Sir John Vickers’ commission, but that he intends Lloyds to have this new structure in place ahead of the 2019 deadline.
Customers and shareholders will regard his pledges to control remuneration and reduce complaints on the way to creating a simple, boring bank as standards by which others should also be measured and valued.
These are changed days from the time when bankers boasted of their latest conquests and raced each other to prove who could stack up the most billions in profits. But rebuilding the balance sheet is as challenging as changing the culture and this will be a long haul. Whether or not Horta-Osorio is still around to see both targets achieved he deserves some credit for his willingness to take them on.
First step delivered, now we wait and see
Mario Draghi has delivered on his promise – to a point. The big question now is whether yesterday’s bond-buying programme helps achieve his stated aim of saving the euro, or contributes to a fracturing of the 17-nation eurozone.
The Germans have softened their opposition to the asset purchase exercise but remain dedicated to controlling inflation. This will be pivotal to how the next few weeks and months play out as the French, Italians and Spaniards defy German dislike of the European Central Bank’s increasing involvement in keeping the euro alive.
Draghi left himself with little choice than to act now following his earlier pledge which raised expectations and drove markets higher in recent days. But the programme unleashed yesterday was money supply neutral, suggesting he had caved in to German pressure. It is unlikely, therefore, to have the impact of the quantitative easing measures taken in Britain and the US.
Needless to say, the reaction from trading desks was hardly excitable, although there was an immediate easing of bond yields. In the short term, the plan is likely to test Draghi’s credibility, though he would be helped by more unity of action by the region’s political leaders.
With or without their support there is little else he and the ECB can do. As one commentator said, the ECB has put its card behind the bar of the last chance saloon and offered to buy everyone a drink, with no guarantee that it will soothe continuing tensions.
Trust is something that has to be rebuilt…
Bankers still rate among the least trusted professions among Scottish finance directors, according to a survey by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. Mind you, journalists and politicians are not far behind. Surprisingly, corporate business leaders also rank badly. That must make for some interesting boardroom discussions.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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