Terry Murden: From blue–eyed boy to bête noire of banking

PETER CUMMINGS, the one-time blue-eyed boy who signed Bank of Scotland cheques for some of Britain’s leading entrepreneurs, is now taking the blame for much of what went wrong.

PETER CUMMINGS, the one-time blue-eyed boy who signed Bank of Scotland cheques for some of Britain’s leading entrepreneurs, is now taking the blame for much of what went wrong.

The Financial Services Authority has imposed its biggest ever fine for management failure, criticising the former head of corporate banking at HBOS for a policy of aggressive expansion that was out of control.

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Cummings is furious with the verdict and his sympathisers have jumped to his defence, suggesting that he is a scapegoat for a crisis that was not only a collective responsibility but for which his former superiors appear to have got away scot free. Could the FSA have overstated his role in the bank’s collapse, or are Cummings and his supporters trying to excuse the inexcusable?

He was certainly in the heat of the action. But by supplying millions of pounds in loans to the country’s top businessmen he was following a strategy dictated by his managers and approved by the board and the FSA itself. Ray Perman, in his newly-published book, Hubris, notes that, in the run-up to the collapse of HBOS, the retail arm was expected to undershoot its profit target and that “heavy pressure was put on Cummings and the corporate banking division to make up the slack.” One senior manager spoke of “push and push”, with deals being forced through.

Some of those to whom Cummings answered were not even interviewed by the watchdog, which now says it has concluded its investigation into enforcement actions. It looks like the FSA has got a scalp, but some of the cowboys have got away.

Everything can be said in two letters anywhere

Everything Everywhere always sounded more like a state of mind than the name of a company, but at least it conveyed its ambition in the telecoms market.

The name, created following the merger of France Telecom’s Orange and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile, was roundly ridiculed and even its chief executive described it as “silly”. It is now being ditched in favour of EE, which sounds like someone’s having a laugh, but it will at least fit better in a headline (highly-paid branding consultants should consider such details).

The company regards the significance of EE as “permission to do something we have never done before”. That something is the introduction of a 4G broadband service.

It will be five-times faster than 3G, effectively enabling customers to download pictures, sound and video instantly.

Of course, it will require a new handset and when 3G was introduced there was a lag between the availability of the service and uptake as customers took some time to acquire 3G enabled phones.

It is likely that, in an era when everyone has at least one mobile phone and prices have fallen, the switchover this time will be much smoother. The big handset suppliers are preparing for a pre-Christmas rush.

Businesses will be a key target market with opportunities for faster downloading of data and video and larger files, though early experience in the US suggests it is remote workers who benefit the most.

Zuckerberg puts a brave Facebook on it

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg managed a few chuckles yesterday during his first presentation since its flotation flop. He says the company will overcome the challenge of monetising mobile access.

His optimism may put a smile back on the faces of his out-of-pocket 
investors.