Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The elusive banking culture

Watchers of the UK financial system will have noted the new head of global giant Barclays Bank in London recently attempting to draw a line under all of the recent scandals by launching the bank's renovated set of values (here).  Its peer HSBC, was more pragmatic in the US when confronted with money laundering charges and was able to argue it was too systemically important, or too big to fail (here).

Throughout the various scandals of the last few years has been the understanding that not only were banks and their stakeholders let down by individuals, but there was a systematic culture which favoured profit and criminality over ethical behaviour.

In comparison the last few years have been favourable to the Australian sector, with few scandals on an industry wide scale.  A recent case involving the Commonwealth Bank (here) has shed some light, but also attracting attention is perennial outperformer Macquarie (the millionaires' factory).  

Reviewing the recent press about the activities of the holey dollar's private wealth division show all the similar signs.  Not only were there compliance failures leading to the resignation of the head of division, but a flawed culture:

....this is a big deal. Macquarie Private Wealth is the largest full-service stockbroker in Australia. The findings of the internal audit by the adviser services unit were that some 365 advisers of the 420-strong team coast to coast were in breach of compliance....Though the number itself is big, the bigger deal is what the regulator's investigations say about that elusive yet critical aspect of the corporation, culture....In contrast to previous ASIC ''enforceable undertakings'' penalties - which mostly pertained to individual rogue activities - the Macquarie action is squarely aimed at management....
...Macquarie Private Wealth is a marginal proposition economically. If deal-flow rises and capital markets return to full swing, this regulatory nightmare may drift away.....(here)
The bankers will be hoping for rising deal flow, but so far no encouraging signs on the deeper issues.

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