Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Jim Armitage

It's time to kick the thrill-seeking boxers out of our banks

New York trader Sean George was interviewed in a magazine last week with his face bleeding and swollen. He wasn't a victim of another Manhattan street robbery, but a Fight Club volunteer at an amateur kickboxing bout.

As he took another knee to the groin, his eye closing up from the punch he'd taken just before, he declared he'd not been so happy all year.

You see, for a former Deutsche Bank credit default swaps trader like him, there just isn't enough fun left in banking these days. "I enjoy taking risks," he explained.

Nowadays, he said, the big banks have moved to safer sports.

Regulators are clamping down.

The day job's becoming, frankly, a bit boring. That's why he now plies his trade at the racier, but smaller, Jeffries bank.

Well, I'm sorry Sean, but that's good for the rest of us, as we taxpayers needn't pay to mop up the blood when your gambles go awry.

There's a particular irony that he finds his Muay Thai fighting so exhilarating, because kickboxing happens like banking doesn't. Take a risk in the ring that goes wrong and get your face broken: it hurts.

In modern banking, if a trader makes a bum deal which loses millions of dollars, he pays no personal penalty. But if the gamble goes his way, he makes thousands of pounds. Dangerous betting is inherently encouraged.

We always thought Standard Chartered was the exception to the rule - boring but safe. But now we're not so sure. Even if chief executive Peter Sands is right, and his bank "only" committed $14m (£9m) of dodgy transactions with Iran, that's still seriously illegal.

On Wednesday, he and his lieutenant, Richard Meddings (the potty-mouthed one, allegedly), face the watchdogs in New York to explain themselves.

They should quell their bankers' instinct for fighting back.

Instead, they must take the punches, agree a fine and humbly give back their bonuses.

Then, publicly, go about creating an obsessively clean culture at Standard Chartered, rooting out the gamblers, the pit-fighters, who seek to game the law.

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