FPS’ Friday Fiver

Hello All, and apologies for a slightly late Financial & Professional Services Friday Fiver this week, but we’ve all been a little hectic. To round out the week we bring you banking, more banking, an Archbishop and Blackpool football club. Happy weekend all!

The Big Four Banks feel the heat….The big four revealed deep divisions on restructuring at Wednesday’s treasury select committee appearance as their CEOs jockeyed for position with the powers that be. Stark divisions were revealed on the Independent Banking Commission proposed scope for ring fencing core retail banking functions. RBS’ Stephen Hester alluded to the “moral hazard” problem if government effectively insulated the market, which could perversely encourage excessive risk taking, a view supported by Barclays.

In contrast, HSBC and Lloyds support a broader separation and more diverse mix to encourage the much needed supply of credit to the market – note the Q1 figures which reveal banks failed to stay on track with “Project Merlin” pledges.

Vince Cable - back on the banker bashing trail this week (image from Telegraph.co.uk)

Finally, Vince Cable rattled the sabre again, unveiling a not so “veiled threat” to link bank bonuses to SME lending! Will this create the required traction on this fragile detente between the City and the Government? Watch this space, but maybe don’t hold your breath.

Anthony Hilton digs in his heel as well…At the same time as surviving a tough session in Westminster, Barclays came under fire from the Evening Standard’s Tony Hilton. While CEO Bob Diamond was claiming to Parliament that his bank had been a “stabilising force” in the crisis (though some might argue the Middle East was the real ‘stabiliser’), Hilton was taking aim at his finance director for something called ‘Project Protium’.

Barclays and the Cayman Islands - source of Anthony Hilton's wrath this week

This essentially involved hiving off some of the bank’s toxic assets to a Cayman Islands registered company in a neat little trick to reduce losses on the company’s profit and loss account when the assets turned sour. It’s fair to say Hilton really went for the jugular on this one. The moral of the story? If he writes something once and you don’t like it, be prepared to read it all again two days later if you complain about it.

The Archbishop caused a stir too…Rowan Williams stole Prince Phillip’s thunder whilst acting as guest editor of New Statesman this week, using an article to heavily criticise the Coalition and its policies. He argued that ‘we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted’ thereby questioning the Government’s mandate to govern.

Was he right? Probably not. As Defence Secretary Liam Fox pointed out, ‘the Government has legitimacy because it has a majority in the House of Commons.’ Whilst some policies have undoubtedly been rushed, a Government is elected to make decisions and lead a country, and it’s fair to say the Coalition is certainly doing that – despite clamours for the Chancellor to adopt a plan B, he presses on resolutely.

As businesses need strong leadership and clear direction, we need our politicians to show equal virtues. Questioning the Coalition’s mandate is much like Donald Trump and others questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth place and therefore his right to be President; an unnecessary distraction from a much more important job at hand.

Boom, Bust or Blackpool…Is it us or is the world of football slowly going mad? We say this having recently read an article on Deloitte’s annual Football Money League. We’re no experts on the ins and outs of running a football club, but GCSE maths and a pinch of common sense tells us that paying your staff more than 70% of your total revenue in any industry is a bit iffy – as our colleague Nick puts it, the desire for a couple of extra places up the league table “seems to me a bit like financial Russian roulette”.

Blackpool gambled and won promotion - others have been less fortunate

We’ve already seen Portsmouth fall spectacularly from FA Cup winning glory to administrative collapse. With wages still increasing it may not be long before other Premiership clubs follow suit. One could argue Uefa’s Financial Fair Play Initiative is a step in the right direction but for us the danger lies in clubs trying to establish themselves as a prominent Premiership force.

Football governance should improve and a lot of lessons can be learned from the world of business. Just as CEO’s have a responsibility to their shareholders; boards, managers and players have a responsibility to fans. I’m sure if you ask most Bolton fans whether they’d rather finish 10th and risk financial meltdown or 14th and still be here in twenty years most would take the latter. We know Nick would!

Demystifying Digital…Finally, H&K this week held one of our regular ‘D2′ events aimed at tackling and understanding the digital world. Our very own Nick Woods presented on how financial services brands can engage in this sphere, highlighting the work we do with HSBC International Bank. We’ll have more on this next week for you, as will the main HanK blog but in the meantime congrats to Nick on a cracking presentation.

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