John Lanchester shines a light on the incredible extent to which banks have failed in the UK - not only as institutions, perhaps banking's higher purpose, but even as companies. His key points on why the push for cultural change - made the talk of the town by Antony Jenkins at Barclays - won't work:
- "Our banks are so big and so complicated that it isn’t clear their cultures are amenable to change in the way we need. Joris Luyendijk, a Dutch journalist who has been running a two-year project interviewing bank staff, reached the same conclusion. His experience was that banks are fragmented and atomised places, and that in many parts of them employees regarded themselves as working not so much for the bank as against it."
- "Let’s for a moment propose a counterfactual, in which one of the big banks was headed not by a banker but...a professional ethicist, greatly admired by his peers, who writes books about the need for banking to be a moral enterprise...The bank was HSBC, and the person in charge as CEO and then as chairman of the board was Stephen Green, who is an ordained minister in the Church of England...As for how that worked out, well, it was on his watch that Mexican drug-dealers made special boxes to deliver drug cartel money over the deposit counter."
- "There’s no reason to think that an emphasis on ethical banking, from the head of the company down to the troops, is likely to have any effect. These banks are huge and hugely complex institutions, whose separate components are fragilely and fleetingly linked. That is the reality of ‘universal banking’"