Bash-a-Banker, why don't ya?

First of all, please allow me to apologise for not writing more about, you know, funds. But as Lipper Feri says in its latest statistical analysis, "A review of latest sales flow data seems a somewhat pointless exercise given the financial maelstrom that has occurred since August."

It’s four weeks today since the financial crisis, currently unfurling around us in glorious Technicolor, began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. At the time, I described 15 September as feeling like the Last Days of Rome. Obviously, I couldn’t know then how NOT the last days it was; how end of the beginning, rather than beginning of the end.

This Monday morning, the feel was more that of the final act of a Shakespearean tragedy. CEOs were falling over themselves to fall on their swords as yet more of our most august financial institutions were quasi-nationalised.

The BBC’s jaunty business editor Robert Peston has described the UK bail-out package, which was the first European rescue plan to be announced due to the UK’s non-membership of the Eurozone, as “an absolute humiliation” for the banks – and so it is.

Many will feel the banks deserve this humiliation. “It seems to be bash-a-banker week,” whined one bank representative on a radio news programme last week. “Yeah,” growled the other people in the room with me at the time, “it is.” Then one gentleman replaced the initial consonant in ‘banker’ with one that comes later in the alphabet and it all started to go a bit downhill.

Such is the mood. People are angry. And confidence in our financial system can hardly have been at a lower ebb since maybe pre-war Germany when you got to take your wages home in a wheelbarrow.

I bring you an example from my own life. This weekend I logged on to digital banking only to discover that my current account had disappeared from the welcome screen. Now, I bank with RBS. Did I assume there was a technical fault? Perhaps some routine maintenance? I did not. I got straight on the phone to them in a panic.

“What have you done with my overdraft?!” I screamed, imagining it already half way to Iceland.

It transpired that there was nothing to worry about and it was one of their random, unannounced security checks. (“Dear RBS, now that I own you, can I point out that those random unannounced security checks are really annoying?”) But my reaction is a measure. RBS used to worry about the creditworthiness of pesky journalists – or, at least, I assume they did. Now pesky journalists worry about the creditworthiness of RBS.

Another measure, which I personally think should be made into a new Financial Times index, is our aforementioned friend Iceland and holidays thereto. The weekend before last, New Year holidays in Iceland were being advertised in the Sunday newspaper supplements with a hastily appended bubble that read “fully bonded and guaranteed”. I hope you didn’t buy one because this weekend the Sunday newspaper supplements were full of the exciting and dramatic fall in the price of holidays to Iceland that had taken place in just a week. Imagine!

I don’t know if they’re still fully bonded and guaranteed, but I think they are. So, New Year in Reykjavik anyone? There’s no daylight, which might be quite soothing in a way, and apparently the price of beer has dropped from £6 (€7.5) to £4 (€5) and is on a continuing downwards trend...

Fiona Rintoul, Editorial Director
© 2008 Funds Europe