Daniel McConnell


Business as usual in arrogant banking sector

A decade on from having to be bailed out, the Irish banking sector remains unchastened, arrogant, and completely oblivious to the needs of the country and its own customers, writes Daniel McConnell

Business as usual in arrogant banking sector

It would make you sick, it really would.

The Central Bank governor, Philip Lane, said that holding individual bankers responsible for the venal and disgusting tracker mortgage scandal would “scare away people” from working here in Ireland.

These are the same bankers who destroyed this country a decade ago at a cost of €64bn.

The same bankers who thumbed their noses at attempts to put manners on them and who still seek to operate above the law.

The same bankers who are now seeking to have their Government-imposed salary cap removed and to have bonuses return at large.

The same bankers who have said they will pay no corporation tax for up to 20 years because of the losses they made during the crash.

The same bankers who have yet, a decade on, to fully atone for what they did to the country or the victims of the tracker mortgage scandal.

Despite people losing their homes because of the banks’ sharp practices and thousands more losing so much money, plus all the distress caused to so many, no one person has been held to account.

No one has been sacked because of the tracker mortgage scandal.

And why, because if we actually held people to account, the banks might move out of Ireland and that would be bad, supposedly.

But what more can this diseased sector inflict on this country?

On Thursday morning, Lane and his top team took their seats to address the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

Lane began by updating the committee that once again, the official numbers affected by the tracker scandal has risen. He said the numbers affected by the tracker mortgage scandal has risen yet again to 38,400.

Previously, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said he believed the number would level off around 30,000 but the numbers have continued to escalate. Lane detailed that as a result of the escalating crisis, so far €580m in redress and compensation has been paid by the five domestic banks to affected customers.

“As of August 31, lenders have identified circa 38,400 affected customers (including cases resolved pre-examination following Central Bank intervention), and paid €580m in redress and compensation,” he said.

But more galling than the ever-rising numbers of poor souls affected by this cancer was Lane’s critique of the lingering culture of avarice within the five domestic banks.

For clarity’s sake, they are AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank, and KBC.

Yes the same banks which go on our TV and tell us they are ‘backing brave’, ‘help for what matters’, or ‘wherever you go, we’re with you’.

The Central Bank’s examination of the tracker scandal revealed bank executives are reverting to behaviours which are “remnant of the crisis”, Lane told angry committee members.

For instance, we found some banks adopted a narrowly legalistic approach in conducting the examination rather than embracing a customer-focused perspective, with some offering initial compensation proposals that fell well short of our expectations.

“While such issues were addressed through the examination, they raised serious questions about the current — and not just historic — culture in the banks,” he said.

“We saw too much focus on short-term and legacy issues, with insufficient attention paid to consumer interests. We discovered some reversion to ‘command and control’ in leadership styles,” he will say.

Shockingly, the five Irish banks who caused the tracker mortgage scandal are still being “overly obstructive” and legalistic with affected customers, aid Lane.

“The examination exposed a clear lack of a consumer-centred culture in lenders,” he added.

“It is clear that consumer-focused cultures in the banks remain under-developed and will only be embedded successfully if banks work to overcome obstructive patterns of behaviour,” his address went on.

At the committee, Lane and his colleagues were accused of being “behind the curve” in making sure individual bankers are held responsible for the tracker scandal.

It was at this point Lane defended a situation where it is only now that rules are being put in place to hold bankers to account.

He said there was a risk of scaring off banks and their directors from this country if a new regime holding bankers individually responsible for rip-offs was introduced.

Sinn Féin TD, Pearse Doherty, asked why a regime to hold bankers individually responsible for overcharging and other misconduct was introduced in Britain two years ago, yet it has still to be brought in here.

Lane said there now are plans for what he called an “individual accountability framework” to be put in place here. But it will require consideration by the Oireachtas, he said.

“I think the Central Bank is behind the curve on this. You are very slow in coming to this. Some half a billion euro was taken from 38,000 people wrongly,” said Doherty.

“We can’t guarantee that every bank is going to conduct itself properly at all times,” Lane said in response.

The governor said there was a risk of “scaring away people”, indicating that banks might leave the country and new ones would be less inclined to locate here.

Committee chairman John McGuinness told Lane and his team that they were failing the consumers of Ireland by being so hands off with the banks and refusing to more effectively hold rogue bankers to account.

Given the track record of misbehaviour within the mainstream banks, their continued misbehaviour as detailed by Lane, maybe it would be no harm to scare a few of them away.

How about another idea, tell them they can have their bonuses and no salary caps when they start paying their corporate tax again.

They say it will take 20 years before they begin to pay corporate tax again, fine.

We say it will take 20 years before a bonus is paid or the salary cap is reviewed.

Banks and bankers in Ireland have proven time and time again they cannot be trusted.

Light touch regulation or virtually no regulation as existed in Ireland was a blank cheque to them to do what they liked, at the ultimate expense of the taxpayer.

Paschal Donohoe has played a hard and straight bat with the banks to date but he has commissioned a review to examine the effectiveness of the €500,000 salary cap. Alarm bells are sounding that we are beginning to make the mistakes of the past.

Former governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan, in a piece in the Irish Times yesterday, said echoes of the bad mistakes of the past can be heard.

A decade on from having to be bailed out, the Irish banking sector remains unchastened, arrogant, and completely oblivious to the needs of the country and its own customers.

The culture of ‘rip off and fuck off’, as one finance committee member refers to it, is alive and well. We should be very afraid.

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