When bankers saw risk as well as reward

When he was a student at Harvard, Bank of England governor Mark Carney played back-up goalie in the teeth-threatening Canadian pastime of ice hockey. So Carney knows a bit about risk..

On Tuesday May 27 he gave a speech to a conference in London on Inclusive Capitalism. The gab-fest included most of the A-listers of the hand-wringing classes — from Prince Charles and Bill Clinton to Christine Lagarde and the editors of the Economist and the Financial Times. Only WPP’s Martin Sorrell and Bill Gates were missing, but it’s half term here, so maybe they were at Center Parcs.

It’s worth going online to the Bank of England’s website www.bankofengland.co.uk to view the whole speech and to be encouraged by Carney’s proposed direction of travel for his tenure as the UK’s central banker. Carney’s speech was both professorial and challengingly direct on the culpability of bankers: “In recent years” he said, “a host of scandals in fixed income, currency and commodity markets have been exposed. Merely prosecuting the guilty to the full extent of the law will not be sufficient to address the issues raised.” He may be right, but it sure takes away some of the pain if you are one of the wronged investors who has lost their life savings. It helps.

There is not one British banker – boss or trader – languishing in jail despite this catalogue of wrongdoing since the start of the cataclysm and referenced by Carney. This country even dithers about taking away so-called honours from disgraced mavens. The banker ‘Sir’ Fred Goodwin took retirement and a huge pension just one month before the doomed Royal Bank of Scotland announced the largest one-year loss in British corporate history in 2009. It was a further three years before the British government gave Goodwin its ultimate sanction and took away his knighthood. He kept the pension.

It wasn’t always that way. Once, we routinely hanged miscreant bankers. Yes, seriously… right up to the 19th century. Here is an excerpt from my new book The Day They Hanged a Banker. Readers will discover that, surprise surprise, not much is new about us being screwed over. We have suffered it all before. Collapsing banks, greedy bankers, fraudsters and money magicians all have their counterparts in history.

The last banker to hang was George Fauntleroy. On one November Sunday in 1824 – two days before his last day on Earth – and in a chapel full of felons at London’s rat-ridden Newgate prison, the high-flying banker Henry Fauntleroy seated himself in the third row of the spacious black painted box pew reserved to accommodate those prisoners about to meet their maker.

Fauntleroy received the traditionally doleful ‘condemned sermon’ designed to remind him of the error of his ways, though you may be sure that Fauntleroy was all too aware of them. Facing him from the pulpit, the ‘Ordinary’, as the chaplain was known, took as his text Corinthians Chapter Ten, verse 12. Eyeing Fauntleroy in particular, he lectured his erring flock that “wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall”. The tubby, balding, grey-haired Fauntleroy had definitely fallen.

Up to mid-September he was a someone – he was banker to the famous; he was invited onto prestigious charitable committees; he was treasurer to two London charity hospitals for the poor; he was even executor to Royal Academy president and famous American painter Benjamin West. He was one of the chief mourners at West’s society funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral. He was also about to have the singular distinction of being the last banker hanged in England simply for being a bad banker.”

The Day They Hanged a Banker is a series of cautionary tales about how we have been shafted throughout history. It is available from mid June as an ebook for Kindle and other e-readers from Amazon and other fine online bookstores

The Day They Hanged a Banker; Martin Hedges; Acton Books; 2014; £1.99

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3 Responses to When bankers saw risk as well as reward

  1. Fascinating. Oh for those days again so the bankers could get their just desserts – they really have screwed it up for the rest of us and I’m sure the resentment is growing ever stronger, as it is in me. I gather Iceland jailed some, if not all the bankers. Am I right, do you know? The book is going on my wish list.

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  2. actonbooks says:

    Thanks so much for the comment. I am new to this after resisting a the twittersphere for years — as you can no doubt discover from the lame and hokey work in progress that is my website. I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to ask if you feel like retweeting (resending? forwarding?) this to your followers… but, there, I asked.
    Regards and thanks,
    Martin

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    • Fret not for I haven’t found your posts thus far hokey! As for tweeting, I do and I have. So there! I was hopeless at blogging to start with but practice makes… Oh, and you might find me re-blogging you as I have three blogs: First Night Design about art, literature and so on, First Night History and a theatrical one, Rogues & Vagabonds. Now there’s a challenge if ever I heard one!
      Have a lovely weekend!
      Sarah

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