I must say that entering into the minefield of today's commentary on banks and bankers, might not be the wisest thing I have ever done. But ... let me start with a quotation from one of my favourite text books:
"If it be asked how such evils arise and are developed...they arise from transactions entered upon, either in sheer ignorance or in reckless violation of the fundamental principles of banking; and once entered upon, they develop themselves with fatal swiftness of growth."
George Rae "The Country Banker" - Published 1885.
It was many years ago I entered the profession of banking, albeit initially as a filing clerk and through a series of roles at the "roll your sleeves up" end of banking, which eventually led into management I ended up 40 years later retiring with a somewhat better title than the one with which I had started.
When I was growing up (alright then, learning to behave in public), banking was a generally respected profession. But in fairness it was not complicated in those days either, just so long as you knew your customer and could provide - or perhaps refuse when necessary - the services they wanted. When I went on to a career in international banking, it was often to countries where banking was of the more traditional kind. Financing traders, manufacturers, small businesses and keeping safe the money that was entrusted to your care.
But times have changed, and although the excrement has now made physical contact with an electrically- powered oscillating air current distribution device, the current revelations of impropriety are sadly not a phenomenon that has happened overnight.
Like the rapid development of modern devices that have delivered more services to more customers more quickly than ever before, product development on its own was not really going to give you a market lead. Products could be copied quickly enough.
Meantime, shareholders were demanding bigger yields in the face of good results from other industries, analysts were focusing on the quarterly results and penalising those financial institutions that in their view were not delivering - choosing to ignore commentaries from banks who said they were focusing more on, and investing in, the long term. At the same time the financial services industry was being praised by Prime Ministers - Labour's Gordon Brown in particular with a 2007 speech where he told an audience of bankers that Labour aspired to replicate "their success" for the whole UK economy. The same man who said in 2005 that the better model for financial regulation was "not just a light touch, but a limited touch". So even the regulators were complicit in this unravelling.
In fact, if you look at it, everyone has had some sort of hand in either implicitly encouraging or taking a "Lord Nelson approach" (putting the telescope to the blind eye, for those unfamiliar with the story). But with all the opprobrium now being conveniently heaped on banks, bank boards, and bankers - you can bet that there will be many others covering their backsides as fast as they can.
Since the GFC I have been at pains to point the finger mainly at the unethical behaviour of certain financial institutions - particularly the investment banks. (Interestingly by the way that no heads have rolled in that community). But clearly there have been less desirable elements at work in the commercial banking world as well, and I shall certainly have to be more even-handed in my comments on that score in future.
But while I can understand the rationale for the banks to try and live up to even unrealistic expectations, I cannot condone unethical and underhand behaviour of this nature. Is it criminal? - I am not a lawyer and cannot say, but even unethical people should be expected to bear accountability for their actions.
Of course with the benefit of hindsight, in the comfort of "retirement", it is easy for me to sit here and make condemning noises. I will say though, hand on heart, that if I had come across this sort of behaviour on my watch there would have been some searching questions asked.
I may have been a boring banker, (I always preferred to say "conservative"), but for my own peace of mind and an ability to sleep at night, I preferred it that way.
How the banks are going to restore the public's faith in their activities, I have no idea. Over time, I guess. But I also think you need to keep this in perspective. The reaction in Britain today is to call for "blood". So it was in the USA 2 or 3 years ago, but nothing has happened there. But why just get at the bankers. Has business always been clean and ethical? Have our politicians - not just in Britain always been the pillars of society we would expect them to be - and if caught out were they always punished? Indeed, there is a big campaign going on in Britain at present I believe to try and stamp out the abuse of the welfare system.
Yes, punish appropriately those who deserve it, but were the Banks to blame on their own? I think not, somehow.