City watchdog concerned by 'demonisation' of bankers

THE City's leading ethics watchdog claims the "demonisation" of bankers worsened in the run-up to the general election and remains a key concern following last week's major regulatory changes.

Simon Culhane, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, branded as "ridiculous" regulatory plans to upgrade the standard of retail bank exams that do not include similar plans for investment bankers' qualifications.

Culhane said this was "illogical" in the wake of the financial crisis "and while the scars of RBS and HBOS at the Treasury select committee run deep".

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His comments came after Hector Sants, the outgoing boss of the Financial Services Authority and new deputy governor of the Bank of England, addressed the CISI's annual meeting last week.

Culhane stirred controversy last year when he said banker bonus-bashing in the US needed to be avoided in the UK, likening its scale to the McCarthy Communist witch hunt in the 1950s.

Asked if that demonisation of the sector had remained at the same pitch, Culhane said: "I think it is very much the same. If anything, it is slightly worse. Everyone has been joining in to see who could bash the banks most.

"The public has been fed a strong diet that all our debt has been largely due to the banks being bailed out. But even the International Monetary Fund has said only between 14 and 30 per cent has been down to the banks."

Culhane welcomed Sants's comments last week that the "culture" and integrity of financial firms needed to move more centre stage.

"For the first time we have a regulator talking about ethics and integrity as mainstream, not just peripheral." Culhane said.

The CISI boss, whose organisation runs 35,000 City examinations annually, said he remained unhappy, however, that FSA plans to upgrade the standard of retail banking qualifications by 2012 did not currently include similar plans for investment bankers.

Culhane said he had no view on the independent review launched by the government under former OFT head Sir John Vickers into whether banks' retail banking and riskier wholesale banking activities should be split.

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But it was "illogical", he claimed, that FSA plans to raise retail banking exams from their current level 3 to level 4 or above by 2012 currently left wholesale banking qualifications at level 3.

He added: "It would be a ridiculous situation that the (educational] standards, level of competence and demonstrable integrity required for a retail banker to sell a product to a customer would all be higher than is the required minimum standard for the wholesale banking sector. We have made this argument to the FSA and others."

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