Comment: Hindsight, what a wonderful word for bankers

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
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IT TOOK four years, but former HBOS chief executive Sir James Crosby yesterday became the latest banker to apologise for his part in the financial crisis.

Crosby, described by Rory Phillips QC as the architect of a plan that led to disaster, had until now said little about the near-collapse of HBOS. But yesterday he was full of contrition, even to the point of admitting his reputation had been damaged and that it would be for others to decide if he should retain his knighthood.

But he showed little willingness to hand back any of the £8 million he earned or the £570,000 pension he is still picking up while others suffer the consequences of the banking crisis. He repeated the phrase “with the benefit of hindsight” to distance those who made decisions at the time, particularly on lending, from the public furore that followed.

But faced with what Parliamentary banking standards commission chairman Andrew Tyrie MP described as “Paxman-like” exchanges (due to his reluctance to give a straight answer), Crosby accepted that incompetence was a key to bringing the bank down, and left the pile of debt that his successors, the treasury and the taxpayer had to clean up.

One key revelation was his take on the departure of former risk manager and whistleblower Paul Moore who, according to Crosby, was not removed because he was a source of challenge. Moore always claimed he was sacked but Crosby said he was made redundant because of a shake-up of roles.

Andy Hornby, who replaced Crosby in 2006, inherited the mess that was already in the making and would have struggled to stop the rot.

He told the commission that the drying up of the wholesale markets was a core reason for what followed. He has a point: Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, HBOS… they fell like dominoes. But he pushed the bank to grow even faster. With the benefit of hindsight…

Lending is easier said than done

THE Treasury must wonder what to do next to get the banks to lend. After the failure of Project Merlin, it launched the short-lived credit easing programme, replaced in August by the £80 billion Funding for Lending scheme.

Already questions are being asked of this initiative. Only Barclays has increased lending and with the state-backed banks still committed to sorting out bad loans it looks unlikely that lending will take-off substantially any time soon. Only £500m has been offered over three months and while it may have helped to reduce interest rates, it is only scratching the surface.

There is, of course, a need for caution in lending, lest we fall into the bad old ways. But greater take is needed if the Treasury is to avoid being forced back to the drawing board.