Who cares what people think?

Editor's letter


Having had 'credit crunch flu', I decided a curry for lunch would be a good idea. But as I settled down with my Financial Times editorial page, I read a letter from Stanislas Yassukovich, former chairman of the Securities Association and deputy chairman of the London Stock Exchange, that almost made me choke.

In his letter, Mr Yassukovich writes that, before the Financial Services Authority was created, "to be in the bad books of the Bank (of England) was devastating, when reputation counted for something. Reputation risk now barely exists for institutions and even less for individual practitioners. It is the failure to accommodate this new reality that has undermined the FSA's enforcement process."

He points out FSA fines are "shrugged off as a cost of doing business by the entities concerned whose franchises suffer no visible damage". He's right - when OR&C speaks to risk executives for articles on reputational risk, the answer is always the same - we don't much care, it's not an issue. Share prices almost never dip, retail customers generally don't stop banking and after a few days the headlines fade.

Of course, there are one or two exceptions. But for the most part, risk executives say they don't bother their heads about reputational risk. They let corporate communications get on with sorting that out. End of story.

Naturally, on a conference platform, they might say something quite different. And on the record, no-one I know would say reputational risk is complete bunk. Well, obviously except for Mr Yassukovich.

But given the profession of banking has sunk even lower in public opinion polls than journalism, I ask, what now? If, with every new revelation, people just shrug their shoulders and say, "it figures"? What weapon in a regulator's armoury could induce improved behaviour?

Mr Yassukovich says regulators should stop faffing about with special agreements and fines, and simply take bankers to court. In the US, we are seeing the early days of criminal probes, and I think we can expect a robust witch hunt there.

But, while I have no doubt the threat of criminal charges will focus many minds in the financial services industry, I wonder what everyone else will think of banks once the dust has settled.

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