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22
Sep 09

A former bank ceo’s view of the G-20

I come from a much-married family. I prefer not to do the maths on averages, but at a recent family wedding in Vermont, I discovered a second cousin who was on his fifth, possibly a family record. I did not ask him about his ex-wives – I doubt the comments would have been favourable.

This behaviour is not unlike that of governments. The UK government’s love affair with the City has now come to an abrupt, acrimonious end. Gordon Brown recently said: “There is no going back to the bonus structure of the past. I am personally appalled (my italics) by some of the practices that have been going on at some institutions.”

Not that long ago, he was personally enthralled by the 25% of corporate tax originating in financial services. This allowed him to spend, spend, spend. He put nothing away for a rainy day. It is not only the scapegoated bankers who deserve opprobrium.

This week we will see a flurry of announcements on bank remuneration, capital requirements and the like from the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. A lot of it has been flagged (see my IHT interview with Jaime Caruana, head of the BIS). How many of these measures will finally be applied is another matter – global coordination and local politics will interfere.

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Martin Taylor, chairman of Swiss agribusiness firm Syngenta, was formerly ceo of Barclays plc and an advisor to Goldman Sachs International, chairing their asset management company. We met because, as a rookie reporter, I wore a Cacharel blouse to a Courtaulds plc results meeting, not realising the company manufactured the fabric. A blonde man commented on it. I smiled and moved on, deliberately. Taylor turned out to be on the board and later became the ceo of the demerged Courtaulds Textiles.

Here are his comments on the current situation:

1. Yoseph Yam, the outgoing head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, said recently that the financial system does not and should not have a life of its own, and that it exists primarily to support the economy. Do you buy this idea of a "real" economy to be supported by Wall Street, the City and the like?

MT: “Yes, of course.  Finance is a meta-activity that cannot exist in the absence of a robust underlying economy.”

2. The main reason cited by governments for not imposing new rules on their domestic banks is that they would lose out to international competition. Is this just a con by the banks, which have strong lobbying powers?

MT: “Governments need to protect their taxpayers from being despoiled again.  They should pay a little attention to the bankers’ moaning about this not being the right time to impose new rules, etc, but not too much attention.  The time to experiment with new rules is now.”

3. The French want mandatory caps on bonuses. Are they right?

MT: “No.  We need mandatory capital hikes for banks, to be brought in over time (extra one per cent p.a. for a number of years), remuneration structures to be subjected to regulatory approval, and more active/sensible shareholders who should themselves be subject to the bonus legislation.  If excessive bonuses are the issue we should tax them, as [LSE Professor] Willem Buiter has (I think) sensibly suggested.

4. Are rising world stockmarkets a bubble or sustainable?

MT: “They are influenced by the liquidity injections of central banks.  No doubt central banks are looking keenly at them (as well as at the "real" economy) in judging the withdrawal of these injections.”

5. Is the failure of governance the main reason behind the financial crisis?

MT: “Not the main reason, no, but boards have had a lousy crisis.  One has to conclude that corporate governance in its present form does not work. Six-month old babies – the perfect independent directors under present canons – would have done little worse.

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Marriage is a source of humour in all sorts of ways. I fell in love with my husband, Kirk Stephenson, because his dry, spirited wit was irresistible. He died a year ago. This poem by Sir Philip Sydney, which I read at his memorial, encapsulates love and marriage.

                The Bargain

My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for another given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven:
My true love hath my heart and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

 

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