The chairman is drawn into the murky world of financial ethics over the story of a bank’s refusal on dubious grounds to honour a cheque and a sermon preached at Barclays’ annual City service.
“Is now a good time to talk about ethics?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a pint or two of If I Wanted To See Lion Testicles I Would Watch The Animal Planet But I Don’t So Please Keep Them Out Of Your Web Advertising at The Unless It’s Some Kind Of Metaphor.
“In my experience, there is never a good time to talk about ethics,” the chairman replied. “I mean, why would you?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I’m not that keen on the subject myself but a couple of things recently caught my eye – the first, I’m slightly ashamed to say, was a cracking story on a finance website that isn’t Fund Strategy. Did you see it?”
”Gav, first, never let anyone film you from below the chin and, second, whatever they’re paying you, it isn’t enough”
“You mean that rap that isn’t a rap by Gavin Lumsden about saving five pounds a day?” the chairman asked.
“No, I very much do not,” I said. “Although, if I might offer two bits of advice to a former colleague – Gav, first, never ever let anyone film you from below the chin and, second, whatever they’re paying you, it isn’t enough.
“But we’re getting off the point. I was actually being sincere about the quality of the story, though the killer impact came from the associated comments. So instead of this single instance of a bank finding a dodgy excuse not to honour a cheque supposed to fund some independent financial advice, we now have a dozen or more instances where advisers say this has happened.
“The site that isn’t Fund Strategy seems to have stumbled on to a real scandal and I really hope this gets properly pursued right across Her Majesty’s trade press. I would have extended that hope to the nationals too but, while the story ticks the banker-bashing box, I can’t see them being too interested in anything that paints IFAs in a merely neutral, as opposed to negative, light.” (article continues below)
“Oh, never say ’never’,” said the chairman. “Maybe the nationals will find an instance where a bank found a dodgy excuse not to honour a cheque supposed to fund some independent financial advice that was itself dodgy, thereby neatly bashing two birds with one stone.”
“How clever of you to find the silver lining,” I nodded. “The reason I find this latest example of the shamelessness of banks interesting is it comes along just after I read my old school magazine, on the front page of which the editor had thought it timely to print a sermon preached by a former pupil at the annual City service of Barclays Bank in the summer of 1955.”
“Ah, simpler, happier days,” the chairman sighed. “Or … er … so my father used to tell me. So do banks still have annual services in the City?”
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “When I typed ’Barclays’ and ’annual service’ into Google, all I got was information on bank charges – not, if I’m honest, the biggest of surprises.
“Anyway, the Reverend could talk, without irony, about ’the unquestioning trust reposed’ in banks by their clients and how, when people consult their bank, ’they will get the advice which is best for them – both enlightened and disinterested’. ’In these facts,’ he told the congregation, ’you will, I am sure, find much of your deepest professional satisfaction and your richest professional reward.’
“Now, if you spoke to the PR people for Barclays, Lloyds or whomever, they could probably just about keep a straight face while asserting that such values held as true today as they did in 1955. But I wonder what they would make of the next part of the sermon, where the Rev asks ’upon what do professional ethics, and their claim upon us, ultimately rest?’
“He suggests they come from ’a simple and direct moral intuition’ and quotes an old Foreign Secretary, who said he could see his way clear through difficult international negotiations ’because I have always believed that to do the right thing is the right thing to do’. So what happened to the banks?”
“Modern capitalism,” shrugged the chairman. “Banks’ simple and direct moral intuition is that the right thing to do is to do right by their shareholders.”