How We Do Business

Once upon a time, if memory serves me right, there was an offence called conspiracy to obtain pecuniary advantage by deception, (Theft Act 1968: section 16). I mention this because in my former existence it was an offence other people committed against banks rather than bankers themselves. Of course there were bad eggs among the bankers, but they were, I think, the exception. Banking was boring because it was honest. Fraudsters were rare and looked upon as letting the side down. If found out, they faced ostracism and worse. Not so nowadays, it seems.

Obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception used to be a criminal offence and carried with it a sentence of up to five years (I’m not sure how the law stands now). Today we read that Bob Diamond has been ‘shamed’ into forfeiting his bonus from Barclays, but he has neither resigned nor been sacked. It may be that a criminal prosecution will follow, but for the moment we are faced with the unpleasant spectacle of corruption and dishonesty at Barclays being brazened out on the grounds that Mr Diamond ‘didn’t know’ what was happening. It may be that he didn’t know, and I certainly don’t want to accuse him of being dishonest himself, but what sort of management is it that disclaims responsibility for ANYTHING that happens in the company for which it is responsible?

Benedict was quite clear about the responsibility of the abbot: it was all-encompassing and extended to the next world as well as this. No one is suggesting that bankers should model themselves on Benedict’s abbot (though there might be a vast improvement if some of them did), but the question of managerial responsibility is a grave one. Too often we find senior mangers shrugging off responsibility when things go wrong, though they are quick enough to claim credit when things go right. What the situation at Barclays has highlighted goes beyond rate-fixing. It touches the very nature of how we do business and the standards by which we live our professional lives.