Tom Peterkin: Greed and bonus grabbing were alien to previous banking bosses
NO DOUBT 2012 will go down in history as the year of the diamond. Nothing to do, of course, with the celebrations marking the 60th year of the Queen’s reign.
For students and victims of the banking crisis, 2012 will be remembered for Bob Diamond and the Libor rate-fixing that resulted in his departure from Barclays.
Silver linings have been few and far between amid this scandal, but one has been that Diamond’s surname has given some innocent amusement to headline writers and the twitterati.
“Flawed Diamond”, “Rough Diamond” and “Diamond wasn’t for forever” are just some of the examples of the more obvious plays on words that greeted his downfall.
At almost exactly the same time as the rate-rigging hoo-hah erupted, another banker whose name was also a gift to headline writers very sadly passed away.
Aside from a surname that encouraged punners, Sir Thomas Risk had little in common with the “Diamond Geezer”.
As his obituaries made very clear, history will judge this Glaswegian lawyer who rose to be the Governor of the Bank of Scotland far more kindly than the former chief executive of Barclays.
Reading the tributes reminded one of a happier era when having a discussion with your bank manager didn’t involve shouting down the phone at a recorded message or being sold a product you don’t need by someone you’d never met. In one tribute, Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP, described Risk as a “professional of impeccable integrity and an acute sense of rectitude”.
Dalyell went on to say that Risk was “movingly heartbroken about the behaviour of those now in charge of cherished banks, and ashamed of their treatment of customers who had put their trust in them”.
One colleague said that Risk “never forgot that the actions of a board should be influenced by the public interest” and that a board should hold the executive to account .
Risk did have his own brush with scandal in the 1980s when he agreed to be the chairman of a new company created by the Guinness take-over of the Distillers company. Ernest Saunders, the Guinness chairman, ratted on the deal. Saunders and three others were later found guilty of manipulating the share price of Guinness in the run-up to the bid and were fined, and jailed.
Even though he was not the villain of the piece, the experience chastened Risk, who felt that he had let down his colleagues. One obituary wryly observed: “It is sadly difficult for an honest man to detect a scoundrel.” Sadly, there has been no sign of any such humility from his successors.
How the ordinary bank account holders must yearn for a bit of Risk-style honour, integrity and prudence to replace the fear, greed, bonuses and Bollinger that has gripped The City and Scotland’s own once-venerable banking institutions.
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