ShareSoc Chairman's Blog

Sunday, Sep 02 2012 by
14

ShareSoc, the UK Individual Shareholders Society, publishes a blog on its website, here: http://www.sharesoc.org/blog.html 

For the convenience of readers, we are now copying blog entries here. Any comments most welcome!

If you like what you read and want to support us, please join, which you can do free here: http://www.sharesoc.org/membership.html

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShareSocUK 

 


Filed Under: Regulation, Investing,

About the Author's Newsletter

ShareSoc Profile Image Promotional
ShareSoc Informer

The ShareSoc Informer is the monthly newsletter of the UK Individual Shareholder Society.  There is a real need to encourage direct investment in the UK stock market, but individual investors will be discouraged if their rights and needs are ignored.  One reason why ShareSoc was formed was to ensure that… ...read more or visit website »


Disclaimer:  

 

No warranty is given by ShareSoc as to the reliability, accuracy or completeness of the information contained within this publication. Any information provided is accurate and up to date so far as ShareSoc is aware, but any errors herein should be referred to ShareSoc for correction. The information contained herein is intended for general information only and should not be construed as advice under the UK’s Financial Services Acts or other applicable laws. ShareSoc is not authorised to give investment advice, and is not regulated by any Regulatory Authority, and nor does it seek to give such advice. Any actions you may take as a result of any
information or advice contained within this publication or otherwise supplied to you by ShareSoc should be verified with third parties such as legal or other professional advisors and is used solely at your own risk. You are reminded that investment in the stock market carries substantial risks and share prices can go down as well as up. Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance. The Editor of this publication and other contributors may hold one or more stocks mentioned herein.

 


Do you like this Post?
Yes
No
19 thumbs up
5 thumbs down
Share this post with friends




431 Comments on this Article show/hide all

ShareSoc 29th Jun '12 12 of 431
1

Posted by ShareSoc at 12:33, June 29 2012.

Barclays, Rensburg AIM VCT and Remuneration

The manipulation of LIBOR at Barclays (the only bank that has yet owned up to it but there were probably others involved) and the recent accounts “freeze” at RBS (commented on in a previous blog entry) will surely continue to put off investors from buying bank shares. There may yet be criminal prosecutions at Barclays (giving false information to a third party from which one gains financial advantage is surely fraud) and the massive claims that might result from those businesses who were doing deals based on Libor must shake confidence in banks even further.

It became very apparent during the banking crisis, and subsequently, that the culture in some of the UK’s largest banks has become one of speculation in pursuit of profit and the latest example extends to simple dishonesty to achieve those objectives. When you can’t trust the management, or don’t like the culture of a company, you should simply not invest in that company – that’s been my long standing motto from past experience. If you can’t trust them to deal honestly and fairly with customers, you can't trust them to respect the interests of investors, particularly smaller ones.

Rensburg AIM VCT is a company where ShareSoc has been running a campaign for some time. The long-term performance of the company, the high management fees paid and the length of service of the directors all tended to give the impression that the company might not be being run in shareholders interests, particularly when our suggestion for a change of investment policy was rebuffed out of hand.

Well some changes have been made. Share buy-backs and dividends have been increased so at least investors are getting their funds back and can reinvest them elsewhere. The investment management agreement has been changed which should result in much reduced fees being paid. And noticeably there is no incentive performance fee in the new agreement! Would that other investment companies did that whereas the trend is to introduce such fees (ShareSoc has repeatedly criticised the benefits of such arrangements). But investment policy remains unchanged, the lack of independence of the directors and questions on the long term viability of the company have caused us to recommend shareholders vote against all three of the directors at the forthcoming AGM – see our note to shareholders in this document for more details: www.sharesoc.org/Rensburg%20AIM%20VCT%20Newsletter%205.pdf . At least we can claim that ShareSoc has had some impact already because before we started this campaign not a lot had changed at this company for many years.

Remuneration in the banking sector is widely acknowledged to be excessive (often based on profits that proved non-existent, or may well soon prove to be fraudulent). ShareSoc has been putting in a lot of effort of late putting our views to Parliamentary Committees on Corporate Governance and Remuneration in financial institutions and on the new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that will introduce binding votes on pay (see the last two entries on this page of our web site for details: www.sharesoc.org/consultations.html . There is also now a consultation just been issued from the BIS on revised remuneration reporting requirements (including a single figure for total pay which may help) to which we will be responding. Getting the views of private shareholders across to the Government and politicians takes a lot of effort but ShareSoc considers it a high priority to do so. Only by such means can we get the things we advocate in our Manifesto.

 

Newsletter: ShareSoc Informer
| Link | Share
ShareSoc 3rd Jul '12 13 of 431
1

Posted by ShareSoc at 11:02, July 3 2012.
How to Change the Culture of Banks?

As the fall out from the Libor fixing scandal continues, it has become ever more apparent that the culture of banks has generated the failings that started the banking crisis in 2008. In summary this resulted in the taking of more risk (by excessive leverage for example), culminating in outright illegal activities to maintain company profits (and of course bankers’ bonuses).

It is good that Parliament is to look at this issue – to quote Mr Tyrie who is leading the inquiry, it is “about the standards and the corporate culture of banks”. But fixing the culture of any company is very difficult. In banks, they have probably been recruiting wide boys and chancers for the last twenty years (i.e. people more motivated by money than anything else), so it’s not going to be a quick fix.

Is it not ironic that Bob Diamond claimed to have introduced an ethics rule at Barclays after kicking out six staff who spend £60,000 for lunch? But one simple step would be to recruit a replacement for Mr Diamond who was not motivated by large bonuses. Only if the bonus culture is destroyed from the top down will real change take place.

Will that take place while the existing board structure and selection procedures are in operation? Probably not. It’s worth pointing out that ShareSoc believes that shareholders should have the ultimate say in who gets appointed as a director and their pay should be also determined by shareholders. In other words shareholders should dominate nomination and remuneration committees that give their recommendations directly to a company general meeting, rather than such committees being solely composed of directors. This would be one simple step to solving the cultural problem because shareholders are often there for the long term while executives come and go, and shareholders are generally more risk averse as a result.

But nomination committees have to do their job properly and select leaders with the right background, and could I suggest not from those with a past career in investment banking in the case of Barclays as another step in changing the culture.

Newsletter: ShareSoc Informer
| Link | Share | 1 reply
emptyend 3rd Jul '12 14 of 431
8

In reply to ShareSoc, post #13

But nomination committees have to do their job properly and select leaders with the right background, and could I suggest not from those with a past career in investment banking in the case of Barclays as another step in changing the culture.

If you do that then you will CERTAINLY have people running the banks who don't have the tools to understand what is going on in their institutions!

It seems to me that this witch-hunt of senior bankers has got completely out of control and moved miles beyond the sort of reasonable, measured comment about the need to refresh management and organisational culture.

In my personal opinion, it will be a REAL struggle to find managers who are both competant and willing to take a role where they know for certain that they are going to get crapped on from a great height by politicians and the public if anything should happen to go wrong - IRRESPECTIVE of whether it is actually something that was controllable by them, IRRESPECTIVE of whether it "happened on their watch" and IRRESPECTIVE of whether they had taken reasonable steps to mitigate, put things right or whistleblow.

The  way things are going, we are going to get the UK's banks run by people who aren't competent to run them and who are incentivised to hide any skeletons they happen to chance across - which will mean that the UK gets the worst of all possible worlds!

This villification of bankers was started by Gordon Brown in order to deflect blame from himself - and it is HIGH time that it was stopped in its tracks.

ee

| Link | Share | 1 reply
marben100 3rd Jul '12 15 of 431
7

In reply to emptyend, post #14

This villification of bankers was started by Gordon Brown in order to deflect blame from himself - and it is HIGH time that it was stopped in its tracks.

And what exactly is it that GB is to be blamed for? The chief criticism relates to the creation of the tripartite authority, leading to lax regulation. Blaming GB for everything doesn't wash with me. How come the same crisis afflicted many countries globally, especially the US with good 'ole George Dubya in charge? Besides lax regulation, the other big mistake that these politicians made was the (unsurprising) mistake of assuming that the good times would last for ever. There are very few politicians wise enough to avoid that error. I don't seem to recall the opposition calling for tighter regulation, before the events of 2007/8 took place.

Why is tighter regulation necessary? Because of the invidious bonus culture led to banks taking foolish risks. I see nothing wrong with vilifying those that have rewarded themselves and their colleagues with gigantic bonuses for taking outsize risks with other people's money that have ended up being backstopped by taxpayers' money, to avoid a complete collapse of the financial system.

I'm not surprised if current or former investment bankers don't like the opprobrium being heaped on them, but it has taken enormous pressure just to curb the most outrageous excesses.

This bonus and entitlement culture has to stop. We need banks to focus on prudent banking. Depositors' money should not be used to help finance risky operations. Yes, I most certainly would like to see a non-investment banker running the operation - and have him splitting off Barclays Capital into a separate company. Let an investment banker run that (obviously), but without the support of the retail banking operation and without implicit taxpayer subsidies.

Mark

| Link | Share | 1 reply
emptyend 3rd Jul '12 16 of 431
9

In reply to marben100, post #15

And what exactly is it that GB is to be blamed for? The chief criticism relates to the creation of the tripartite authority, leading to lax regulation.

True....but then he can also be blamed for:

a) sidling up to Victor Blank at a Spencer House cocktail party and inducing him to buy HBOS by offering to waive all the competition issues

b) Claiming for year after year in the Budget that he was being "prudent" and had "abolished boom and bust" - whilst the reality was that he was busy stoking the biggest debt-fuelled boom in history in order to keep the financial sector tax cash-cow capable of being milked to finance Labour's spending plans.

c) Ramping up PFI spending in order to keep Labour's spending out of the statistics for public debt. We'll all be paying for that for years.

d) Turning a blind eye to the need for checks and balances in the financial regulation system and failing to realise that the FSA was simply not fit for purpose (despite doubtless being told this on many occasions by the Governer of the BoE).

e) Promoting the knighting of Fred Goodwin - and kow-towing to a whole bunch of other incompetants as he taodied his way round the City.

 

So...yes...the actual trigger was a problem in the US mortgage market. But we got hit much harder than the USA because Browns obduracy and neglect had left our financial system much more bloated, enfeebled and under-regulated than happened in the USA.

And THEN, when he realised the shit was hitting the fan, he lashed out and tried to heap all the blame on the bankers (and foreigners). No judgement, no morals, no understanding of the City, no backbone, no honesty and just no bloody good!! We'll be paying for his incompetance for decades!

Blair should have fired him when he thought about doing so in 2005 - if Darling had been appointed then we might have had some chance of a better outcome!

 

Yes, I most certainly would like to see a non-investment banker running the operation - and have him splitting off Barclays Capital into a separate company. Let an investment banker run that (obviously), but without the support of the retail banking operation and without implicit taxpayer subsidies.

No problem with the idea of splitting the banks up if shareholders really want to do that - though the entire global banking system has been organised and financed on the principle of universal banking.....and that will cost vast fortunes of shareholders money to disentangle systems and managements that have been consciously and deliberately merged over the last 15 years (which was something else that Brown thought was a good thing and encouraged!). Just DON'T leave non-investment bankers in charge of investment banking operations - that was one reason why Fred Goodwin's team cocked things up so spectacularly!!!!

I'm not surprised if current or former investment bankers don't like the opprobrium being heaped on them

There was no need for that sideswipe - you know perfectly well that I and various other former investment bankers were relentlessly vocal (against strong opposition on TMF) from 2002 onwards in trying to warn bank investors of the dangers of holding banking shares! We may not have identifed precisely what would tip the financial system over the edge - but we repeatedly warned that the banks' managements didn't understand the business being written in their name and this could only lead to disaster. The last thing that we should be doing is repeating the mistakes by appointing managements who are not competant to rectify the problem - and that is what the original poster appeared to be advocating.....

....you cannot simply slash and burn top managements in a fit of pique - SOMEBODY has to be hired to do the job....and the chances are that anyone sensible will now run a mile from top management positions at banks thanks to the unthinking pillorying that such managers are now forced to endure.

Finally - do NOT be surprised if Bob Diamond makes many of these points at the Select Committee tomorrow.

ee

| Link | Share | 1 reply
marben100 4th Jul '12 17 of 431
4

In reply to emptyend, post #16

Interesting points ee... but deserving of some further analysis:

a) Clearly, Brown's motiivation for this was to effect a rescue of HBOS at a time of absolute crisis. Lloyds shareholders were the chief party to suffer from that - but surely that's far more Blank's fault for succumbing to Brown's blandishments (and possible threats). Looking at the "bigger picture", the probable effect of pushing through this takeover was to lessen the crisis - but to the detriment of Lloyds shareholders.

b) Now that, I agree, is the most significant point - but I certainly don't think he deliberately stoked an unsustainable boom. From my reading around this issue, the biggest factor was that interest rates remained as low as they did for as long as they did, and that no controls were imposed on bank reserves/securitisation.

Here is where I object to your OP: bankers were not compelled to go on the spree of leverage and securitisation that they did. This was surely driven by the bonus culture and excessive greed. Few outside the investing banking industry understood what was really going on (including many bank directors). What I really object to is calls to "stop bashing the bankers" - when little in their behaviour seems to have changed. A complete cultural change is what's needed. Major shareholders share some blame here too - as they indirectly encouraged these excesses.

However, again, I suspect that many shareholders didn't understand the consquences of demanding unrealistic rates of return on bank capital: that's a lesson that current bank shareholders should learn. They are reliant on the bank executives, who are supposed to know what they are doing and ought to be acting prudently. Clearly, that wasn't happening. We need a banking culture that does not reward excessive risk taking, nor force staff into taking such risks to maintain their positions. Huge bonuses and a macho culture are a significant factor in this, IMO.

 

The other criticisms you make, which certainly have some validity, are far less significant to the big picture, so no point arguing about them.

Until I see a cultural change, I will continue to criticise bank executives. I do see some signs of hope in Hester's recent (relative) pay moderation and applaud him for that. It gives him a lever with which to make the sort of cultural changes I'd like to see at RBS. There is an awful lot of ordure that needs cleaning from these Augean stables.

 

I'd better make it clear that my posts on this thread (as opposed to the ShareSoc ones) are entirely my personal views, not necessarily those of the ShareSoc Board or its membership.

Mark

| Link | Share | 1 reply
marben100 4th Jul '12 18 of 431
2

One more thing...

The last thing that we should be doing is repeating the mistakes by appointing managements who are not competant to rectify the problem - and that is what the original poster appeared to be advocating.....

I think it is equally true that investment bankers don't understand (or have any interest in) retail banking. ISTM that that is one key reason why the "universal bank" model really isn't a good idea: yes, investment bankers must be put in charge of investment banks and retail bankers in charge of retail banks. The core retail banking operation must not be vulnerable to investment banking failures.

A consequence of this is that capital for investment banking will be more expensive. Then investors will have a true choice: take a bigger risk (without taxpayer support) by investing in investment bank debt or equity and get a higher immediate return, or accept a lower immediate return in exchange for taking little risk and having a deposit guarantee. That is how it should be.

Yes, it will be painful and expensive to effect this separation.Shareholders need to be aware of that.

I hold no financial sector equity (but do hold some preference shares).

Mark

| Link | Share
marben100 4th Jul '12 19 of 431
2

Professor John Kay sums my views up neatly in the final paragraph of an article today: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a8c00988-c430-11e1-850c-00144feabdc0.html 

Perhaps banks should operate to standards as high as those of casinos. There are two main arguments for splitting the utility of retail banking from the trading casino. One is to stop croupiers gambling with house money; the other is the incompatibility of trading and banking cultures. The

| Link | Share
emptyend 4th Jul '12 20 of 431
9

In reply to marben100, post #17

Mark,

Lets leave G Brown on one side. I'm in no doubt about his culpability but he is now a side-issue and we have to deal with the fallout going forward.

This para is at the nub of the debate:

Here is where I object to your OP: bankers were not compelled to go on the spree of leverage and securitisation that they did. This was surely driven by the bonus culture and excessive greed. Few outside the investing banking industry understood what was really going on (including many bank directors). What I really object to is calls to "stop bashing the bankers" - when little in their behaviour seems to have changed. A complete cultural change is what's needed. Major shareholders share some blame here too - as they indirectly encouraged these excesses.

We differ on the "banker-bashing", but yes - shareholders were also to blame...and not for the first time either [I once did some work with Marconi - who went bust because they were finally persuaded after years of shareholder nagging to spend Weinstock's GEC cash pile on acquisitions at precisely the wrong time in the market].

BUT it is completely disingenuous of politicians, the press and others to "keep bashing the bankers". Politicians certainly played their part (as discussed above) but so also did the press (in encouraging rampant consumerism and playing ZERO role in journalistic investigations of what was actually going on in the financial system) and, of course, the general public - who had "never had it so good" and happily borrowed and spent to an extent that would have had our forefathers turning in their graves! ....

- People don't blame drinks companies for producing and selling alcohol to people who then abuse it

- People (mostly) don't blame tobacco companies for continuing to sell their addictive products to those who are hard-up and unable to get off the habit

....and in both cases there are substantial social costs imposed on the rest of us as a result of both activities.....

...so why is it "OK" to single out bankers for bashing when they were merely (in 99.9999% of cases) carrying out lawful business that was being encouraged by Government and the Press, and allowed by the Regulators who were supposed to be protecting the public? 

The short answer is that it ISN'T justifiable in any way shape or form. Certainly the culture and practice in banking needs to change - and you can be certain that the bank managements and other stakeholders all recognise that only too well......but that DOESN'T mean that the rest of us should "forget" that we were all complicit in the debacle and continue to vindictively pillory bankers for excesses which ( in the overwhelming 99.999% of cases) were completely and utterly beyond their control.  The real cause of the crisis was actually groupthink - nobody with any influence was shouting about the dangers of so much debt in the economy (which is something else I blame Brown for, as his hubris got the better of his brains): The Bank of England had been emasculated by the transfer of powers to the FSA and the FSA had a culture of cost-minimising box-ticking because it was funded by the industry and not incentivised (or technically equipped!!!!) to ask tough questions of the banks - and I know this last point well, having approached three successive FSA MDs to see if there was any role for someone with my knowledge of the debt capital markets...and there simply wasn't - they had nobody with any proper industry expertise!

But, coming back to your wish to continue "bashing the bankers", the real problem isn't any of the above - it is that by continuing to "bash the bankers" we are in severe and imminent danger of shooting ourselves (and the UK economy) in the foot!  Only in the UK does this unremitting "bashing" mentality exist - and if it continues for much longer we  in the UK will have:

  • banks that are less competitive internationally
  • banks that are run by second-grade people, because the better people will work elsewhere without the public opprobrium that UK banking now attracts
  • London will be much less attractive as a financial centre ( damaging the surrounding economy)

 

Is that REALLY in the interests of the UK?

 

I'd better make it clear that my posts on this thread (as opposed to the ShareSoc ones) are entirely my personal views, not necessarily those of the ShareSoc Board or its membership.

Actually, it would perhaps be best for ShareSoc to clarify the status of the comments in the name of "ShareSoc" on this board. I can see that you are clearly speaking for yourself and that is fine and clear .....but the ShareSoc post to which I responded was clearly expressing a first-person personal view of the anonymous author - and I'd suggest it is that aspect which is unsatisfactory.

Regarding your second post:

I think it is equally true that investment bankers don't understand (or have any interest in) retail banking. ISTM that that is one key reason why the "universal bank" model really isn't a good idea: yes, investment bankers must be put in charge of investment banks and retail bankers in charge of retail banks. The core retail banking operation must not be vulnerable to investment banking failures.

I agree the core point there that the core retail banking shouldn't be vulnerable to investment banking failure and that the universal banking model is riskier. However, it may be helpful to explain some context:

For many years they were completely separate. The US had formalised this in the Glass -Steagall Act, but repealed its key provisions in the late 1990s due to pressures arising from international competition - the UK had allowed purchase (but not integration, initially) of stockbrokers and jobbers by commercial banks in the 1986 "Big Bang", and London was overtaking New York as a financial centre because commercial and investment banking became ever more closely integrated. So (taking NatWest as an example, as I was there at the time) the trading arm of County Bank (Natwest's investment banking arm) was moved into the same floor at 135 Bishopsgate as the main bank's FX trading room and, over time, various trading desks were moved across the floor (so, for example, the derivatives traders were moved into the FX trading room).....and, in the space of a few years, full integration came about. The other source of international pressure was the Swiss and German banks - who had ALWAYS followed a universal banking model....but perhaps had been more conservative than the anglo-saxon newcomers in the way they actually ran their banks!

Splitting these things up is most definitely a very major and medium-term exercise....and not one to be done lightly. Neither will it be costless for corporate customers - who will lose access to various global banking services that are currently provided as a "one stop shop". These points seem to be being completely overlooked in the debate!

A consequence of this is that capital for investment banking will be more expensive. Then investors will have a true choice: take a bigger risk (without taxpayer support) by investing in investment bank debt or equity and get a higher immediate return, or accept a lower immediate return in exchange for taking little risk and having a deposit guarantee. That is how it should be.

Yes - all fair comment. Capital for investment banking SHOULD be relatively scarce and expensive - and should have no state safety net. Retail banking is IMO a pure utility operation - and should be regulated in a similar way to the way that water and power utilities are regulated.

If we could turn the clock back, I would say that structurally and culturally the banking industry was "in the right place" in about 1996....and that most of what went on in the following decade was a spiral of excess that was inevitably going to lead to a crash of one sort or another. I would like to see UK banking go back to 1996 - which was a world where integrated services could be offered to customers, but also one in which there was a healthy tension between investment banking and commercial banking and a large degree of separation in terms of management and culture.......but the danger is that these calls for separation in fact take us back to the 1970s, where many banking/dealing services were very much more costly and cumbersome than we have taken for granted today.

rgds

ee

| Link | Share | 1 reply
ShareSoc 4th Jul '12 21 of 431
3

Posted by ShareSoc at 17:00, July 4 2012.

Press release on Barclays, plus a trio of AIM company presentations

ShareSoc has issued a press release on Barclays LIBOR rate manipulation debacle and Diamond’s pay (a truly unbelievable £120m that he has collected while a director of Barclays with probably more to come). It analyses the causes of the banking sector scandals - see http://www.sharesoc.org/ShareSoc_Press028%20Libor%20Debacle.pdf 

Last night ShareSoc members attended three presentations by AIM companies: DQ Entertainment, Pittards and @UK. Some brief and informal notes on these companies and the presentations are present on the ShareSoc Members Network blog. But let me say that these were certainly educational sessions even if many of the attendees might not have jumped to invest in them.

 

Newsletter: ShareSoc Informer
| Link | Share
marben100 4th Jul '12 22 of 431
5

In reply to emptyend, post #20

...so why is it "OK" to single out bankers for bashing when they were merely (in 99.9999% of cases) carrying out lawful business that was being encouraged by Government and the Press, and allowed by the Regulators who were supposed to be protecting the public? 

Let me make one thing clear, I have no desire to "bash" the myriad of junior staff who were and are simply doing lowly paid jobs - and I'm sure that sentiment is true of the majority making such remarks. What we take issue with is the senior staff, who awarded (and in many cases, continue to award) themselves with huge packages.

There are a myriad of possible answers to your question (why is it OK...?), but let's look at just one example: the recent interest rate swap misselling scandal. It seems clear that the root of this scandal was, once again, a cultural change that turned one-time pillars of local communities (traditional banks) into sales offices. Instead of addressing the real banking needs of consumers and small businesses, they became driven by sales targets set by remote head offices. Hardly surprising that products got missold.

What government policy, exactly, was it that led to that cultural change? AFAICS it was driven by short-term profit seeking by senior executives to the exclusion of all other considerations, including possible impact on the banks' customers and knock on consequences. It wasn't government policy that caused morality and prudence to go out of the window (though the "loadsamoney" culture encouraged by govt. policies in the 1980s played a big part, IMO).

I am utterly unrepentant (and indeed feel it my duty) to criticise such behaviour and (more importantly) do what I can to see it changed.

I don't see how we can just roll things back to 1996 - because I see nothing so significant that changed in 1996 that led to the brakes being taken off unfettered greed. It goes back much further than that.

ShareSoc's proposed solution is to give shareholders greater power over the nomination of directors and determination of their remuneration. I have attended many AGMs this year, and seen far too much cronyism and too many "placeman" non-execs. Surely it is obvious that that is what happened at many banks and was a key contributory factor in the cultural change that you and I both deprecate? Many (but, of course, not all) boardrooms seem far too cosy to me. Your own NED experience at a very small company will have shown how untenable it is for NEDs in FTSE100 companies to fulfil their roles properly, whilst holding numerous directorships.

 

Giving more power to shareholders is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The other part of the solution is to pressure institutional investors to play their part and take active responsibility for ensuring that the right combination of talent is directing and overseeing their businesses and that pay is reasonable. How can the utterly disproportionate increases that have taken place in the Boardroom over the last 30 years possibly be justified? I am pleased to observe that institutions DO now seem to be becoming more active, but there's a long way to go and vigilance will be required to prevent backsliding.

I do appreciate that this is global problem. The "occupy" movement, which began in the US, and spread globally, shows that it is gaining global recognition too. ShareSoc and I, however, can only address UK situations, though we are members of international investor representation groups, WFIC and EuroInvestors.

Regards,

Mark

| Link | Share | 1 reply
emptyend 4th Jul '12 23 of 431
5

In reply to marben100, post #22

let's look at just one example: the recent interest rate swap misselling scandal. It seems clear that the root of this scandal was, once again, a cultural change that turned one-time pillars of local communities (traditional banks) into sales offices. Instead of addressing the real banking needs of consumers and small businesses, they became driven by sales targets set by remote head offices. Hardly surprising that products got missold.

I'm not at all sure that is right (at least in Barclays case - I heard vastly more comment about such a cultural shift in relation to Lloyds!). If you listened to Diamond at the Select Committee today, you will have heard him explaining to the committee (who didn't appear to grasp the point) that:

(Floating rate + swap to fixed) is equivalent to a fixed rate loan.....

...and many Barclays customers apparently WANTED to have fixed rate loans and Barclays were, in most cases, merely giving customers the economic equivalent of what they asked for.

The fact that they now bitterly regret that decision (because interest rates have plummeted, thanks to the aftermath of the financial crisis) is NOT the fault of Barclays (save for, no doubt, a relatively small number of situations where the product sold was actually misrepresented). Of course the number of people complaining is high - but it is high for the same reason that personal accident cases in relation to car accidents is high....namely the encouragement of fraudulent and/or false claims by "Claims Management" companies...and the opportunity to make a quick buck back and assuage their "buyer's regret". If you don't believe me on that, I suggest you check out the details when they have all passed through the ombudsman etc.....and also check the Daily Telegraph for Friday (or Thursday) last week - because these Claims Managers were out advertising for "swaps misselling" business THE DAY AFTER the story broke in the press.

I am utterly unrepentant (and indeed feel it my duty) to criticise such behaviour

...and I am utterly unrepentant about defending the vast majority of honest, hard-working bankers (INCLUDING most of those at senior levels) who are doing their level best to ensure that the industry can recover and thrive and be a major export-earner and employer in the UK.  In particular, I consider it my DUTY to point out that the baying mob who ignorantly tar every bank and banker with the same brush (thanks to the past actions of a few handfuls of people in an industry that employs millions) are fundamentally wrong in very many (but not of course all) of their criticisms and proposed remedies. These are VERY dangerous times - and the unthinking pillorying of banks and bankers is making things worse and much riskier, NOT better!

As such, I find myself in complete agreement with Boris Johnson - which is a slightly unusual experience.....but it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that the mob don't tear down or handicap major financial institutions in their thirst for revenge - because that is what it is driving all the venom that has hounded Diamond out of Barclays....naked envy and revenge!

Remember that I was one of those pointing out the risks in these areas before they happened. I've got no axe to grind.....I haven't worked in a bank for 15 years........the time to get all concerned about these issues was in 2000-2005 - NOT now when everyone and his dog inside and outside banking knows that there are issues that need to be addressed and the regulatory people are fully engaged, properly resourced and on the case of anything that looks like a problem. Decapitating bank managements and vast reorganisations of the banks are the most dangerous possible response that people and politicians can have to the present situation!

I don't see how we can just roll things back to 1996 - because I see nothing so significant that changed in 1996 that led to the brakes being taken off unfettered greed. It goes back much further than that.

The point is that in about 1996 I would judge that the cultures and organisational structures in banks were in a sensible balance - consumers got a good range of good value products that were considerately sold and the investment banking tail didn't wag the commercial banking dog. That is my considered  judgement, as someone who has spent 30 years working in the industry or watching closely from the outside (in equal measure). The fact that you think the problems go back much further indicates your willingness/keenness to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

ShareSoc's proposed solution is to give shareholders greater power over the nomination of directors and determination of their remuneration. I have attended many AGMs this year, and seen far too much cronyism and too many "placeman" non-execs. Surely it is obvious that that is what happened at many banks and was a key contributory factor in the cultural change that you and I both deprecate? Many (but, of course, not all) boardrooms seem far too cosy to me. Your own NED experience at a very small company will have shown how untenable it is for NEDs in FTSE100 companies to fulfil their roles properly, whilst holding numerous directorships.

I don't disagree that there is too much cronyism and placemenship amongst non-execs - especially serial non-execs. I have previously suggested somewhere here (or perhaps in emails to you/David) that there should be a low numerical limit on non-exec directorships held by an individual. Two NED roles in a public company seems quite enough to me...and NEDs should be as independent and independently-minded as possible.  This is relatively easy to change - institutions simply need to boot out those who do not appear to be pulling their weight or who are potentially conflicted thanks to too many interests.

Banks are a special case however. I would characterise bank boards historically as being rather akin to the clubby types who are names at Lloyds.....financially aware but perhaps not at the cutting edge of finance. If I was unkind, I might suggest that some of them have been a bit thick - or at least totally unaware of the way that modern financial markets work (nb - I think this is less of a problem now). As an illustration, I was once asked by my bank's Global Treasurer to speak to a (titled) board member about a personal investment proposal he was considering....and it rapidly became clear to me that the proposal was in fact most likely to be a large-scale attempt at fraud. It took all my reserves of tact and patience to allow him to reach that conclusion himself, rather than be told by someone 3 rungs down the foodchain that he was a gullible twat.

Regarding your point about institutional involvement, I fully agree that they need to be more proactive....and perhaps some are doing so. However, from where I sit there is a vast over-reliance by institutions on the advice of box-ticking consultants who advise them which way to vote on resolutions without themselves having reached rational conclusions about what "independence" actually means. For example, some consultants have advised voting against directors who own millions of shares outright but who happen to have small numbers of options as well. Why? Because they think that options prejudice independence. No consideration at all is given to the balance between shares owned and options. They would have a point if the options dwarfed the shareholding - but they don't when it is the other way around!

rgds

ee

| Link | Share | 2 replies
ShareSoc 4th Jul '12 24 of 431

Correction: the link in #21 above should read:

http://www.sharesoc.org/ShareSoc_Press028%20Libor%20Debacle.pdf

Newsletter: ShareSoc Informer
| Link | Share
ShareSoc 4th Jul '12 Moderated for Non-public Information
marben100 4th Jul '12 26 of 431
5

In reply to emptyend, post #23

...and many Barclays customers apparently WANTED to have fixed rate loans and Barclays were, in most cases, merely giving customers the economic equivalent of what they asked for.

 

I don't think it's as simple as that, as this article explains: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jun/29/interest-rate-swaps-caps-collars?newsfeed=true

I doubt anyone would object to simple fixed interest rate equivalent products. If it were that simple, why not offer customers a straightforward fixed interest rate loan? It's the complex, structured products, which many small business owners would not understand, that are likely to be the the cause of the problem. The fact of the matter is that the FSA has ruled that the products (whatever they were) were sold inappropriately. i doubt that they would do that if there wasn't strong evidence of misselling.



As usual, I agree with some of what you say and accept that just tarring everyone with the same brush is wrong and damaging. I also agree that the "compensation culture" (another facet of greed) is highly damaging. However, many bank executives seem to be their own worst enemies, by continuing to trouser huge pay packages. It is that example that then permeates the culture of their institution, encouraging greed and the conseqeunces we've seen.

Yes, I accept that these people are doing very difficult jobs, but isn't £1-2m p.a. enough to compensate for the stresses of that (and for their talent)? Why do they feel it necessary to go "one up" on their peers and look for figures 10x that size. As I've said before, I do see Hester, for example, setting a good example and praise that, though it took some pressure for him to accept the need to moderate his award. There are many lowly paid workers out there, doing multiple jobs just to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Do you think their lives are any less stressful than those of a relatively cossetted top-executive?

I simply do not believe that many bank top exectuves are such unique individuals that they are irreplaceable and hence vast sums must be paid to attract and retain them*. Rather, I see this as a market failure, where Boardrooms are not making appointments in a truly competitive manner, but rather are operating as cosy cliques.

*I know of a certain small oil company ;0) that has demonstrated all too well that it is possible to attract top talent without offering outsize rewards. The individual was attracted by the knowledge that he could have a transformative effect on the company and get his reward in the form of job satisfaction and share options that can produce a serious reward if his transformation works.



Re "box ticking consultants", again I quite agree: a "one size fits all" policy doesn't work. This is another problem that needs tackling. It's a tricky one when some instos managing moderate portfolios have too many holdings for them to manage themselves - but that's where the shareholder committee concept can come into its own: those institutions (and other shareholders) would nominate and elect dedicated individuals to act for them on shareholder committees. It could be argued that that's not dissimilar to the role of an NED - but in practice too many NEDs are not truly independent of their Boards, in my experience. Also, committee members would have a far more limited role than that of an NED, only addressing nomination and compensation matters.

Regards,

Mark

| Link | Share | 1 reply
emptyend 5th Jul '12 27 of 431
4

In reply to marben100, post #26

I don't think it's as simple as that, as this article explains: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jun/29/interest-rate-swaps-caps-collars?newsfeed=true

I doubt anyone would object to simple fixed interest rate equivalent products.

The fact is that a collar IS a very straighforward product. Bascially the floor is there to lower the cost of the cap - so instead of a fixed rate at one rate, he would have got a rate that floated around a fixed number. That is the principle - and that is why it was attractive to borrowers, because they reduced their expected costs. The reason it has caused so much trouble isn't (mostly, IMO) that these products were "mis-sold"......it is that the unprecedented collapse in interest rates has led to even the floor level looking excessively high.

However, many bank executives seem to be their own worst enemies, by continuing to trouser huge pay packages. It is that example that then permeates the culture of their institution, encouraging greed and the conseqeunces we've seen.

You are right that many seem to be their own worst enemies due to high pay in a time of austerity. There is a very natural public envy of their good fortune. BUT you are wrong to think that this effect then trickles down! In fact it is the opposite: people THROUGHOUT banks are "overpaid"...and in fact in relative terms the people who are running them are often underpaid relative to those at the next level down. I'm sure the numbers are out there somewhere but it is frequently the case that star traders or deal-makers are paid more than the CEO - and there can be dozens of them. They are (or should be!) only so highly paid if they have performed exceptionally on the basis of their talent (rather than merely having access to the bank's balance sheet) - but THIS area is something that bank managements (and their institutional investors) have been EXTREMELY weak at tackling over the last couple of decades. I have personally known several people buried in bank trading rooms who took home £3-5mn in a year.....and I also recall the very well-known tale of the chap at Bankers Trust in the 1987 crash who effectively cornered the long bond with a massive position - and took home $23mn that year. Sadly I was never anywhere near that league in terms of luck or skill......

 As I've said before, I do see Hester, for example, setting a good example and praise that, though it took some pressure for him to accept the need to moderate his award. There are many lowly paid workers out there, doing multiple jobs just to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Do you think their lives are any less stressful than those of a relatively cossetted top-executive?

The problem is that you can make this argument in respect of virtually any groups in society - so why single out senior bankers? Just about every group has historically been "overpaid" relative to nurses, for example .....and yet those differentials persist. We do not (even in Luton ;-)) live in a socialist state where everyone is paid the same. There will always be differentials caused by market power and scarcity of skills.......look at the tube train drivers in London and their Olympic strike threats - and on the flipside consider the pay prospects of girls who WANT to work looking after animals or young children. I also wonder what will happen to these even more vastly-overpaid footballers who have gravitated to the UK's Premier League.

The reason that banking became structurally overpaid is that there was a GENUINE scarcity of skills in relation to financial knowledge and the use of technology. Trading activities in the 1980s were VASTLY different activities to those a decade earlier - and there was a massive shortage of skills to get into growing markets, such as derivatives (eg swaps didn't exist before about 1982). I was a beneficiary of that in the early stages - because I did some of the very early work on swaps when I was still at business school......but this process of innovation and skill shortages continued to roll on for the following two decades - until at least the early 2000s. And it was this that drove up pay structures.

The problem was that nobody ever called a halt. There was a lack of cojones in most banks (except, in my experience, HSBC!) to call the bluff of their "star talent" and let them walk......the "auction for talent" was an annual and unavoidable ritual - and many many teams walked en masse from bank to bank and took their clients and knowledge with them. For those running the banks (at all levels) this was a serious issue - because they themselves were incentivised to produce profits....and the "ownership" of talent and skills was absolutely essential.

So...culturally....that is how the high pay environment came about - and it is certainly endemic. You mention Hester - who IMO is clearly a man with a public conscience. BUT do not underestimate how close he came to walking out, thanks to the excessive interference with his contractual arrangements. He is now clearly underpaid in relation to many of his staff - and the risk is that this will delay or stop the recovery of the bank and the recovery of taxpayer funds. People may crow about the moral victory in forcing him to accept a lower payout last year - but the payback may well be (or certainly would have been if he'd walked) that the public purse (thats you and me) loses many millions as a result ...because talent will be leaching out of RBS from that point onwards and staff at all levels will be disincentivised to some extent (its no fun working for organisations that are being piloried through no fault of the individual!).

I simply do not believe that many bank top exectuves are such unique individuals that they are irreplaceable and hence vast sums must be paid to attract and retain them*. Rather, I see this as a market failure, where Boardrooms are not making appointments in a truly competitive manner, but rather are operating as cosy cliques.

As you can see from the above, I also think it is a market failure. The failure was mostly during the period 2000-2005, IMO. Whilst there is some residual element of cosy cliques in bank boardrooms, most of the lightweights have now disappeared or been forced out. As it happens, I've worked close enough with three CEOs of major banks (it was 4 until this week ;-)) to know that they are all extremely hard-nosed people who will bear down on the cost structure of their banks (and all have been appointed to the top job since the 2008 crisis - which itself IMO is an indication that the boards recognise the need for such change). BUT....and it is a big BUT that is frequently overlooked......this is a process that will, unavoidably, take time to work through. What they are doing is looking to change a global culture that has developed over three decades - and that simply CANNOT be achieved in less than 7-8 years without some very serious side-effects*.

*Some complain about banks not doing enough to promote growth - and IMO that is one of the side effects of trying to change the banking system too quickly.

ee

| Link | Share
ShareSoc 5th Jul '12 28 of 431

Posted by ShareSoc at 08:59, July 5 2012.

The weather doesn’t only please ducks – Dunelm yes, but Halfords no.

The appallingly wet weather in the last few months has produced dismal sales figures from many retailers with few people bothering to buy summer clothing. But for Dunelm, who issued a trading statement this morning, they must be praying it continues.

Like for like sales in the fourth quarter ending June were up 10.4%. Growth was “boosted by the unusually wet weather over much of the quarter which ensured consistently strong footfall into stores” according to the company. For those who have not visited a Dunelm store, it’s a pleasant shopping environment often with coffee bars within the shop.

Meanwhile Halfords share price continues to head south presumably because investors expect their sales of bikes and other equipment to be poor because of the weather – they are now on a forecast p/e of 7 and yield of over 9%. Perhaps they should introduce coffee shops also so as to make their stores into “destinations” and a place to go for a chat with friends?

This might be a good suggestion to make at their forthcoming AGM which at least they have moved to 11.30 am after complaints at the early start time in Birmingham last year.

 

Newsletter: ShareSoc Informer
| Link | Share
marben100 5th Jul '12 29 of 431
5

They are (or should be!) only so highly paid if they have performed exceptionally on the basis of their talent (rather than merely having access to the bank's balance sheet) - but THIS area is something that bank managements (and their institutional investors) have been EXTREMELY weak at tackling over the last couple of decades.

 

This is the nub of the problem (as far as the pay aspect is concerned). Performance pay at this level is what has encouraged too much risky behaviour. If clever people know that they can earn huge rewards by gambling other people's money, then why are we surprised that they use every possible means to "earn" those rewards?

A US culture, epitomised in Liars Poker, has infecting global banking. Only by stopping these huge performance bonuses will we get prudent behaviour. And that's why the "banker bashing" continues. Until it is recognised that amoral behaviour is unacceptable, lay people have every right to demand change. Cultural change needs to start at the top - and Diamond's $120m+ fortune amassed by infecting Barclays with that culture is an excellent illustration of what needs to change. That is why ShareSoc is pressing on this issue.

 

I have no problem with genuine entrepreneurs who risk their own money, to create products or deliver services that clearly benefit buyers becoming as rich as they can (providing they act responsibly and don't, for example, attempt to lock-out competitors and create unchallengeable monopolies). It's quite a different matter when intellectual talents are diverted into dreaming up financial products that few understand and which create systemic risk.

This issue isn't about envy. It's about justice and creating a reasonably  stable society and a reasonably stable economic environment. There will always be booms & busts and a degree of "creative destruction" can be beneficial - but it's a question of scale. Nothing good whatsoever came out of the Great Depression. Ever growing inequality damages that aim, and will IMO ultimately lead to social disorder on a horrific scale. We're already seeing increasing support for extreme polticial parties of the right and of the left in European countries where the populus is suffering economic deprivation (as well as in the US). That is a trend that really scares me.

Regards,

Mark

| Link | Share | 2 replies
rhomboid1 5th Jul '12 30 of 431
3

In reply to marben100, post #29

Hi Mark and EE

Fascinating discussion , a few points that I'd make;

1) There is something deeply unappetising about our political and journalistic class framing the debate and indeed proposing to intervene in the role of "conscience of the people" , for instance when Bob Diamond was trying to explain that the relativities between Bank Libor submissions were critical as they demonstrated that he who lied largest stood to imply a degree of financial strength that was wholly undeserved there was a startling lack of comprehension or follow up by MPs , I may have missed something as I was listening to 5 live and lost the signal in the channel tunnel..but this struck me as a vital point.

2) Forcing Bob Diamond out has effectively destroyed any appetite from other Bank Chiefs to whistle blow on systemic malpractice elsewhere, the WSJ reported Libor concerns back in 2008 , where were our political leaders then?

3) Barclays took a decision 16 or so years ago to become serious about investment banking the Wall St way and understandably paid comparable rewards to bring in such a beast, it seems wrong to now complain that he is behaving just like his CV said he would.

4) Few dispute that we need a form of Glass Steagall in the UK ,personally I'd prefer a "bob diamond" version rather than a Cameron/Milliband knee jerk populist solution .

| Link | Share
emptyend 5th Jul '12 31 of 431
5

In reply to marben100, post #29

Mark,

This will be my last contribution to this debate.

Only by stopping these huge performance bonuses will we get prudent behaviour. And that's why the "banker bashing" continues. Until it is recognised that amoral behaviour is unacceptable, lay people have every right to demand change. Cultural change needs to start at the top

That is absolutely incorrect. There is no problem WHATSOEVER with "huge" performance bonuses - IF they are actually earned by dint of some special skill. That is capitalism. What you are advocating (using ShareSoc as a vehicle to harness popular envy of the well-paid) risks destroying the profit motive in a very large section of our economy. It is also completely unnecessary - because bank managements and large shareholders are ALREADY bearing down on employee costs where they can do this without causing significant harm to their businesses.

I've emboldened that last bit because the line you and many others (including anti-capitalist anarchists) are taking is effectively seeking to eradicate "high" pay at any cost! It is not "amoral" to earn large amounts of money.........there is no necessary relationship between the two!

It's quite a different matter when intellectual talents are diverted into dreaming up financial products that few understand and which create systemic risk.

It doesn't matter one iota to the rest of us that bright dream up stuff that few people understand - providing that it doesn't create systemic risks. This is the ONLY point that matters and the ONLY reason why banking has become such an important issue - the way the last Government (and their counterparts elsewhere....though not, for example, France) went about regulation allowed systemic risks to develop on a massive scale ....and that shouldn't have happened! If there had been no systemic risks created, then banks and other over-indebted businesses (eg GM) wouldn't have had to be bailed out by Governments - and Joe Public wouldn't have cared a jot that bankers had lost their jobs and shareholders had lost fortunes.

The ENTIRE focus of this debate should be about the future avoidance of systemic risk* - ensuring that never again are Governments forced to step in to preserve the integrity of the payments system, cash circulation and other services that are crucial to daily life in a modern economy.

*If they offered a larger font I'd have used it! It is the only thing that matters!

I agree with you about the risks of social disorder - but the misdirection of this debate to personally villify honest bankers is making the chances of such disorder much higher, not lower! Your talk of "justice" betrays the point that the tack being taken by ShareSoc is based on envy, despite your denials.  Politicians (Brown in particular) stoked the fires of revolutions when he attacked bankers, rather than doing a Mea Culpa for overseeing an utterly disastrous regulatory regime - he should be taken out and shot in front of his family ( /Clarkson mode off). He has done the country a MASSIVE disservice by misdirecting this debate into areas that are no concern whatsoever of politicians! The ONLY thing they should be concerned about is the avoidance of systemic risk (that and making sure they collect proper taxes from the highly-paid)!

Finally, turning to rhomboid's points, I agree with every single one of them. The politicians on the Treasury Select Committee were wilfully blind to the point that Diamond was making about the relative levels of LIBOR (which was that the authorities should have been concerned about most of the other 15 banks being too low rather than Barclays being too high) - they were too interested in their own self-aggrandising but pathetic imitations of the Jeremy Paxman approach to interviews......in particular that pillock David Ruffley (Conservative, Bury St Edmonds) who was busy "getting off" by demanding "yes or no" answers to matters that clearly required a lengthy explanation. The transcript is here for anyone who wants to see politicians playing to the gallery rather than doing what they are paid for.

The fact that all of the "serious" (hah hah) newspapers sent their diary correspondents along so they could write clever pieces of utter derisive nonsense merely shows how dangerously far off-topic the whole subject area has become. Our politicans and journalists should be taken out and shot (I've leave the full Clarkson mode off this time).

ee

| Link | Share

What's your view on this article? to Comment Now

 
 
You are feeling neutral

Use the £ sign in front of a ticker to turn £VOD into Vodafone PLC

You can track all @StockoChat comments via Twitter


About ShareSoc

ShareSoc is dedicated to the support of individual investors. Our aim is to make and keep you better informed so as to improve your investment skills, and protect the value of your investment. We won’t shirk from tackling companies, the Government or other institutions if we think you are not being treated fairly. more »


Stock Picking Tutorial Centre


Related Content

Stock Picking Simplified

Stockopedia takes your stock picking to the next level with cutting edge Stock Reports & Screening tools.


Get started
or Take a Tour to find out more.