Let’s give bad bankers a venue to admit their sins

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

South China Morning Post, July 22, 2012

Frank-Jürgen Richter proposes creating a truth and reconciliation panel for rogues of finance

Anyone who has typed the dots and dashes of an SOS distress call will appreciate the similarities to the present global race to cross the t’s and dot the i’s as we focus on the emergency response to the Libor rate-setting scandal.

The British Bankers ‘Association which sets Libor, the London interbank offered rate, across 10 different currencies daily is reasonably sure it does this task well: so it empowers banks to exchange currencies according to a standard.

It was Barclays that first hit the headlines for its apparent efforts to bias the rate. Now, not just the big British banks, but also major American, Canadian, Japanese and continental European lenders may face similar scandals.

And it is not just Libor that is the problem. It really is the systemic absence of banking ethics. Most recently, HSBC has been criticised for its role in money laundering. Of course, HSBC is a business and it has to turn a profit to remain in business, but there ought to be limits to the kind of money it handles. The bank is not alone, as Wachovia and ING have both been fined for Mexican, Iranian or Cuban irregularities. There will be more fallout.

The question is, have we reached a tipping point? If so, what action will the authorities take? And how broadly will the reforms spread? It seems there is systemic corruption in the banks and that government oversight bodies and regulators were too weak to control the miscreants.

Before we rush into the blame game, we ought to consider: if we sack all those responsible chiefs and their immediate staff, who will take their place?

I suggest we engage a truth and reconciliation commission empowered to judge the wrongdoing and to open ways forward: just as in newly emerging democracies wherein it has been judged more beneficial to recognise wrongs, to apologise for their commission and to embark on healing ways.

In banking, we need to retain our clever and intelligent bankers and have them recognise their wrongs. Quickly, bankers and the regulators need to work together to show that responsible people can be transparent and truthful while conducting business. In the present acrimony, we find only costly defensive posturing and the blaming of others while traditional customers atrophy through a lack of cash flow.

There is a choice to be made. Not just by government ministers intent on scoring political points, or by the leaders of the “Occupy” movements who wish to fly their flags, but by the common man calling for a simple systemic approach to solve these issues –by bringing back trust and peace to our commercial operations.

Dr Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business community