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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 24 April, 2014

Nick Leeson: The banks don’t care so we need to look after each other

“As austerity bites to the knuckle, soup kitchens spring up around the country and children are sent to school hungry. It just seems so terribly wrong.”

Nick Leeson

THIS WILL BE my final article for TheJournal.ie. It has been a pleasure to write for you and share some of my thoughts and experiences but my time will be limited in the New Year and I have to allocate accordingly. I would like to leave you with some thoughts and advice on each of the areas that I have written about more frequently in the past, banking, government and health.

My career, short though it was, was in the banking arena that continues to bring us all such stress and concern. I have lived in Ireland for exactly ten years now and have experienced the highs of the boom and the extreme difficulties of the bust that followed and unfortunately still continues to linger.

I’ve also borne witness to the way that the banks completely ran away with themselves and ignored hundreds of years of traditional banking wisdom, aided and abetted by an incompetent control system. Nothing much has changed since my day in the pinstripe suit. Banks clearly remain reckless, think largely of themselves and are so focused in the pursuit of generating income that they remain blinkered as to how their action/inaction are affecting others.

It’s time for that to change but I really don’t see too much evidence of that happening. Banks need controlling but nobody seems up to the task. Anybody who moves in those circles in Dublin will tell you that many of those put in place to correct the problems have long since gone native. They are now as much a part of the problem as they ever were a part of the solution.

“The tail continues to wag the dog”

Governments across the globe fail to stand firm when it comes to controlling the banks: they simply don’t understand and the tail continues to wag the dog. Income generated through financial markets is colossal and governments tread on eggshells when dealing with the banks. This has always been part of the problem.

Anybody who thinks banks care should think again. HSBC have been fined £1.9bn and UBS £1bn just this week for wrongdoing in the financial markets. They shrug them off as though they are nothing. Banks need challenging. If you don’t do it yourself then nobody will do it for you.

Think of a banker as no different than any other sales person. They have product to sell, they are taught how to sell it and their success is based on the quantity that they sell. Not on whether it is the most appropriate product; not whether it achieves what it is supposed to and certainly not on whether it offers you a degree of protection – they are only interested in the sale.

Just think of PPI, 100% + mortgages, buy to let and endowment mortgages. All the greatest thing since sliced bread when they were introduced but all either failed spectacularly in crippling you individually or are now subject to legal proceedings. There are many others! So empower yourself, get informed and ask those searching questions.

“It’s time to say the debt will never be paid.”

On the plus side, AIB have started to talk about debt forgiveness: in their words, “where appropriate”. I wrote about this is one of my early articles. It was then and still remains the only solution to the problem.

But for that you need a government with a backbone. A government that has the strength of mind and conviction to say ‘No’. Whilst the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has stated that the €3.1bn Anglo promissory note will not be paid in March, there is far from widespread agreement; from what we have seen he stands largely alone. It’s time to say that it will never be paid. On the one hand we have large multi-national banks being handed billion pound fines, on the other we have a nation, crippled by debt being forced to repay €3.1bn. It just doesn’t seem right.

Ask yourself, Where do those fines go? The answer is back into the system to pay for regulatory and supervisory bodies that fail spectacularly to do their jobs time after time after time.

“Those who bailed out the banks see no benefit”

As austerity bites to the knuckle, soup kitchens spring up around the country and children are sent to school hungry. It just seems so terribly wrong. The same financial systems that were bailed out are handing down astronomical fines yet those who bailed out the banks see no benefit – it’s no great leap to suggest that certain fines are being paid indirectly with bailout money.

And finally, as much as Christmas brings joy to many, it does bring difficulty as well. Numerous stories of suicide have been in the mainstream media in recent weeks. I’d just like to reaffirm that there is always hope, there is always a future and something to look forward to.

It’s not always so easy to see but communicating and talking about your problems will keep you safe. The New Year looks better than those that we have seen in recent years. There are very clear signs that we are turning the corner but the path remains very difficult.

I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Read all of Nick Leeson’s columns here>

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