Posts Tagged ‘Financial Services’

The acceptable face of economic debate?

posted by Edward Jones

THIS POST IS BY JOSHUA GLENDINNING

Angela Knight, head of the British Banker’s Association, is to step down after five years at the helm of the industry body. Knight has led something of a charmed life in what would be seen by many as an invidious position in an adverse political climate for the financial services sector. While the former Tory MP doesn’t garner respect from all political quarters, she is certainly admired by many within the financial services sector for her ability to speak on behalf of the industry. According to The Guardian, she has given over 800 broadcast interviews, and travelled over 14,000km to and from Brussels alone since 2006. For those working in the City, it has been preferable to have such a shrewd political operator speaking on their behalf rather than having to face the ire of public opinion themselves

Knight’s time at the BBA has been indicative of a broader trend within politics and the media. Despite frequent media brickbats, those within the financial services sector are often far better able to carve themselves positions of political and intellectual authority than many other would-be commentators. Ultimately, the BBA is little more than a lobbying organisation for its members and yet Knight has been able to assume an air of authority within the media which would not be accorded to many others in similar positions.

For example, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey may have been making political waves this week but he is unlikely to be asked on most news programmes to talk on subjects that don’t explicitly affect his members. (Incidentally, for an interesting insight on the man who appears to have the ability to turn the government and subsequently the public into Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, listen to Profile on Radio 4). Knight, on the other hand, has been frequently asked to discuss broader social and economic issues, as well as more obvious areas such as the reform of the banking sector.

The financial crisis (or perhaps Robert Peston) has increased public interest in the financial services sector to a level previously unseen. However, outside of personal finance, many commentators in possession of a sufficient degree of technical knowledge are also industry insiders. The adversarial exceptions to this rule (for example, here and here) lack experience at conveying their views to the new audience which has invaded their previously arcane and quiet cloister of political debate. Unlike construction, manufacturing or even many service industries, the products of financial services are almost entirely intangible and the sector is therefore assumed to be too complex or too boring for most people to understand. The upshot is that media discussion is divided between either popular yet infantile anger or sophisticated yet sterile analysis.

‘The acceptable face of British banking’ may not be missed by all, but the reputation she has built for herself is certainly instructive for any company or organisation wishing to make an impression on the media.

FPS’ Friday Fiver

Hello All, and welcome to a surprisingly sunny Friday in central London. There’s certainly not been a shortage of financial services and politics related stories this week, and we’ve tried to give you a flavour of some of our favourites below. Thanks as ever to Ed Jones and Jonny H for their contributions.

TAXING TIMES…..Barely a week goes by without the EU sparking controversy on our idyllic isle. Among other things it was the EU’s proposed financial transaction tax causing consternation. As noted by the Telegraph this week, John Cridland said: “The likely effect of many of Brussels’ current proposals will be to damage the UK’s prospects for growth. Nowhere is this more acutely the case than for professional and financial services, which are being bombarded with unwarranted regulation.” He went on to describe the proposals as “a Brussels revenue-raising exercise, and one that will hit London disproportionately hard”. He didn’t stop there though, also slamming Brussels’ plans for Solvency II…

Cridland’s point was very clear - this will lead to the demise of London as a financial centre, to be overtaken by the perennial competitors New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. Sad times.

A TOUGH WEEK FOR GOLDMAN…..A lot of people like to have a dig at Goldman Sachs, but the first time in a while investors now have a reason to complain as well. It’s been a grim week for the world’s premier investment bank. Having their name dragged back into the mud following Raj Rajaratnam’s sentencing to 11 years in prison for insider trading didn’t help. Being accused of dodging a large UK tax bill didn’t exactly add to the party mood either.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver

Hello all and happy Sunny Friday. It’s a good thing the rays are shining outside, because things are still looking decidebly wintery for the global economy. The Fiver touches on this issue this week as you’d expect, but we’ve also comments on Ed Miliband’s speech at the Labour Party conference and we profile some of the work we’ve been doing with Aviva. Thanks to Sallie, Ed, Jonathan and Joey.

Towards anomie? The human cost of the Greek crisis…..Yet another round of crisis talks were required this week to try and resolve the seemingly irretraceable problem of European sovereign debt and avoid a situation where Greece defaults on its financial commitments. Needless to say, further funds have been made available to help prop up struggling nations. In a fascinating piece for Newsnight, Paul Mason went beyond the bailouts to examine the human cost of Greek debt. The Newsnight broadcast can be found here and we’d encourage you to watch it.

The Greek economy continues to burn (Image: Belfast Telegraph)

The message to take away from the piece was that Greek society is in a fragile condition. Young people expect nothing from the state and are understandably disillusioned by the situation they find themselves in. This sense of betrayal extends beyond the nation’s youth and up into many middle class families. Mason’s report refers to the potential for anomie – not a word we were familiar with – which describes the worrying potential for a breakdown of social norms. It’s all too easy to see events through the big picture prism of the EU politicians and German parliamentary debates but it is worth sparing a thought for those who face the consequences of these decisions.

Choose your leader…..A leader in waiting addressed the Labour Party conference this week. He looked unassuming, strode the stage with confidence and was greeted with a standing ovation…..Step forward Rory Weal, the 16 year old who took Liverpool by storm, enthusiastically embraced by the actual leader Ed Miliband, who some might argue could learn a thing or two from the young man.

Labour found a new star this week, but Ed Miliband's speech was hampered by technical difficulties (Image: Daily Telegraph)

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FPS’ Friday Fiver

posted by Edward Jones

Known unknowns…

Frank Portnoy, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego has written a fantastic article in today’s FT on market uncertainty, rogues, risk taking and trust in banks. The best we’ve seen and rather frightening, Dr Doom would be proud, because ultimately, however much we regulate, we are only basing decisions on what has happened in the past, rather than what could happen in the future – i.e, Greece defaulting.

Every picture tells a story…

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

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FPS’ Friday Fiver

Hello again all. It’s been a frantically busy week here in the Financial & Professional Services team, but as ever we bring you the Friday Fiver which rounds up this week’s events. Thanks to contributors Mel, Nick, Jo and Jonathan this week.

Freedommmmmm…Braveheart bonds, kilt edged bonds, Connery bonds and Jonathan’s own personal suggestion of shortbread bond are just some of the names being used to describe new powers that will allow Scotland’s government to issue debt.

Mel's adopted country is about to issue its' own bonds

The Scotland Bill makes provision for the country to raise up to £2.2bn from markets to fund infrastructure projects. There had been calls to permit up to £5bn of borrowing but this idea has been dismissed and Treasury ministers are at pains to emphasise that this does not amount to writing a blank cheque. It remains to be seen what ratings agencies will make of Scotland’s credit worthiness.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver

After last Friday’s company Charity Day, the Fiver is back. This week we tour the globe and the news agenda with comment on time zones, tweets, trades and the thorny issues surrounding the state-owned banks. Thanks to Clare Coffey, David Chambers, Ross Gillam and Nick Woods for their contributions.

Time warp

Economists often watch German manufacturing exports or Saudi Arabian oil production for signs about the health and direction of trends taking place in the global economy. The small island nation of Samoa is not well known for its economic significance but last week the country announced a move which says a lot about the global economy.

The Samoans have decided to move the zigzagging International Date Line to their east. The move which will take place later this year will bring the country a day closer to Asia and Australasia.  

As a nation, the Samoan’s seem happy with change. In 2009 they decided to switch sides and start driving on the left of the road. The rationale for this latest decision is to put them in closer sync with the East. The FT described this as a “clear vote of confidence for the Asian century.” 

The old adage that time is money seems appropriate.

 Shares for everyone?

The British public should all receive a portion of the shares the government owns in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group when the time comes to sell them back to the private market. That was the view this week of the Centre for Policy Studies, which published a paper outlining the idea. The media inevitably picked up on the fact that doing this would also cause the City to lose out on around £1bn of fees for underwriting and processing the share sale.

So is it a good idea? Anthony Hilton in the Standard was broadly supportive, though he had reservations about whether the idea could actually work. From our point of view, anything that reintroduces consumers to the notion of share ownership, dividends and the wider sphere of personal finance has to be a good thing.

 Clear as Westminster mud

Today’s report on injunctions by a committee of top judges has questioned the boundaries of reporting on statements made in the House of Commons and Lords. Committee chairman Lord Neuberger criticises MPs using parliamentary privilege to simply “flout” rules, supporting the report’s comments that reporting in the Lords or Commons can only be protected by parliamentary privilege where ‘summary is published in good faith and without malice’. This last comment challenges the free reign of journalists to report what they like, something many have argued is unfair and equates to a gagging order. Rather than drawing clarity on the issue, the report seems to highlight the just how blurry the current law is.

However, what is even less clear is what the rules should be on those who use social media to openly discuss injunctions. Journalists and the general public are just as likely, if not more, to search Twitter for the latest gossip and news rather than listen to statements in the Commons and Lords. With this in mind, businesses who want to bury bad news need to pay just as much attention to conversations online as they do at the despatch box.  

 Inflation targets – what is the point?

Official figures released this week announced that CPI has hit the heady heights of 4.5%, more than double the Bank of England’s target level. The Bank concedes it expects inflation to continue to grow this year, even hitting 5%.

 

In a speech last night, the Bank’s deputy governor for monetary policy, Charlie Bean (yes, Mr. Bean is a deputy governor!), admitted that the Bank had taken the decision to “accept a temporary period of above target inflation”. This therefore begs three questions: how long does a ‘temporary period’ last, on what criteria was this deemed ‘acceptable’ when there are millions of households struggling to make ends meet, and what is the point of a target if it is acceptable to fall flagrantly short of it?

Clearly Mr Bean and his colleagues are struggling to do their jobs. Is this because though the target is simple, they do not have the means to get there? Is their inaction, action? Do they have the requisite insight and tools to enable them to do their jobs? They say a bad workman blames his tools – and maybe our leading economic brains can justifiably say that the tools at their disposal have proven to be inadequate (hence the regulatory infrastructure changes to come) and therefore they are hamstrung as a result. However, the millions of households across the country can ill afford the wait or the expense of a ‘temporary’ period of crushing inflation.  

Glencore – The saga continues

So the long wait may finally be over but the speculation remains as Glencore this week made its much anticipated IPO. Whilst much of the hype had centred on rumours of oversubscription, shares in the Swiss-based commodities trading company traded on a “conditional basis” between a high of 553.17p an increase of 4.4 per cent from the offer price – and a low of 530p.

 

With many investors hoping for an opening day rally of between 5-10% many were left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Whilst many commentators may argue that the trading activity marks a normal stabilisation procedure, the debate around the wider issue of the somewhat sluggish European IPO market looks set to continue.

With this in mind it seems Glencore will continue to be under the spotlight until next Tuesday as the business moves to unconditional trading with the most positive projections suggesting the company will go straight into the FTSE 100, only the third time this has been achieved.

Either way with 5 of its executives set to become billionaires, perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom!

FPS’ Friday Fiver

Yes, it’s back. After a break for the Easter holiday, some glorious weather and that dress, we return with the Financial and Professional Services team’s Friday Fiver. We also have a fresh contributor this week, our new regulatory and government expert, Melanie Worthy. Other pieces this week come from regulars Ed Jones, Ross G, Karen and myself.

Crunch time for RBS and the FSA…The Treasury Select Committee and the FSA announced this week that they’ve asked City heavyweight Sir David Walker and lawyer Bill Knight to conduct an independent review of the report the FSA is producing into the failure of RBS. They will examine whether the report fairly reflects the findings of the FSA’s investigation of RBS, as well as analysis of its own regulatory activities.

Sir David Walker - charged with reviewing the demise of RBS (image from guardian.co.uk)

Walker’s unique attributes of being both a credible City figure plus a trusted Government adviser make him an obvious choice for the role. His track record helps too – he has headed Government enquiries, such as in 2009 when he examined governance at the big UK banks.

Just as well then, as he’s going to have his work cut out. However “complex” the issues were, as the FSA cites somewhat reluctantly, there will be strong media interest and expectation for answers as to the causes of RBS’ demise; the excessive cost to the public purse from bailout; and the wider malaise that played out across the banking sector as the financial crisis ensued.  Whilst Walker and Knight tread through a minefield to avoid the legal conflicts to RBS employees, they’ll be mindful of the need to show teeth and forensic review on both sides of the regulatory fence.

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Blog safari – hunt for the best financial service bloggers

I have recently been on a blog safari. I hoped to track down the best blogging talent the financial services industry had to offer and bag them for our blogroll.

[Cameras at the ready]

I envisaged the web as a Serengeti, a vibrant ecosystem, full of talented and insightful bloggers from across the spectrum of financial services all offering their thoughts on the latest developments from within the industry.

The big beasts of the plain were immediately obvious. Established journalists such as Mark Kleinman and Robert Peston break big industry stories via their blogs on a regular basis but these sit on traditional news sites.

I was searching for lesser known talent but it proved elusive. There were a few notable exceptions although these came from individuals with a background in journalism or from corporate entities. Dominic Frisby, a regular contributor to Money Week, runs Frisby’s Bulls and Bears. The site is aimed at private investors and provides insight into the latest economic and market developments and is full of interesting audio interviews, particularly for those with an interest in commodities investment. Likewise, for those with an interest in fixed income, M&G’s Bond Vigilantes provides regular and accessible comment on debt markets.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to why there are so few blogs from individuals within the industry worth reading. It is possible that the industry is so well served by traditional media that there’s little demand for blogs.

Compliance and regulation also make it difficult for bloggers to write about the companies they are working for.

[Financial services bloggers are harder to spot]

In true David Attenborough style, I had hoped to unearth new, undiscovered blogging talent but what I found was that it is either hidden in amongst the undergrowth or still in the evolution process. If you have discovered a financial services blogger with something to say, then do let us know.

Our Top 5 Business Columnists

As you might expect, our Financial & Professional Services team consume a truckload of traditional and new media every day on all things money. Despite the never-ending torrent, one thing we always make time for is to read the many excellent business columnists and commentators that try to make sense of everything going on.

We read a lot of these, and websites too, but which are our favourite business columnists?

With that in mind, here’s a list (in no particular order) of five of our favourites who appear in the business pages each week. This is by no means definitive, and indeed there are many others who we love to read as well – we’d welcome thoughts on your favourites too:

Anthony Hilton - one of our absolute must reads (Image from PRWeek.com)

1. Anthony Hilton, Evening Standard – A consistent hit in our team, Hilton has been providing commentary on the City for several decades. Never afraid to pull punches when it comes to analysing an issue, he always presents clear, concise, logic behind his arguments. Simply put, a must-read for us and thousands of others involved in financial services.

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The Vickers report – what’s the impact for consumers?

Broadly speaking, there were two parts to this week’s interim report from the Independent Commission on Banking. The first focused on how best to avoid another cascade failure of the banking system, which would likely place the onus on the government to bail out failing banks in order to avoid system-wide collapse – as happened in 2008. The proposals to tackle this are twofold: One, create distinct ‘firewalls’ between retail and investment operations in UK banks; Two, increase the ratio of capital held to lending issued in the retail part of banks.

Sir John Vickers - published his interim report on the future of banking in the UK this week

Judging by the rise in the share price of UK banks after the report was released, the view from the City seems to be that these recommendations are less onerous than might have been expected (though as the Independent’s Andrew Grice noted, the balance of squealing from both sides showed that Vickers may well have got it just about right).

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