Quest: There is something smelly in the London financial world
Barclays is unlikely to be the only one manipulating rates
It is time to get the drains up and start cleaning out the sewage
The best punishment I can mete out is for those guilty to clean toilets and sewers
Editor’s Note: Richard Quest is CNN’s foremost international business correspondent and presenter of Quest Means Business. Here, he gives his views of the latest bank crisis. Follow him on Twitter.
The Libor scandal has confirmed what many of us have known for some time: There is something smelly in the London financial world and the stench is now overwhelming.
But It is only when I read the Financial Services Authority report – all 44 pages of it – that is became clear just how widespread, how blatant was the fixing of the benchmark interest rate Libor and Euribor by Barclays. Brazen is the only word for it.
The emails and phone calls reveal that on dozens of occasions those who stood to gain by the decisions asked for favors (and got them) from those who helped set the interest rates.
And all the time the world believed Libor was somehow a barometer of what banks were lending to each other. It wasn’t. It was the rate at which a bank was prepared to corrupt the money markets for its own narrow, venal gain.
It is the way the traders, the rate submitters – everyone involved in this cesspit – was running to do wrong which makes it so egregious. With one or two feeble exceptions, no-one ever seemed to stop and say “this is against the rules.” Or, heaven forbid, “this is wrong.”
I have no doubt that Barclays wasn’t the only one up to this. The FSA report makes it clear that other traders were putting pressure on their rate setters too.
It’s just a question of time before more fines are levied. After all, to believe that this was just Barclays is to ignore the obvious. I can imagine the frantic damage limitation now underway at other banks as they try to minimize their own damage, instead of coming clean.
All this wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t so serious – Libor and its cousin Euribor are the rates used to determine hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of highly specialized financial contracts called derivatives. Businesses and household loans are set by this benchmark. It is the backbone of the financial world and now it has been proven to be bent and crooked.
On the wider issue of how banks are governed, it is another example of why light-touch regulation and self-regulation are oxymorons.
We have seen it in investment banks where Chinese walls have been ignored and information freely passed about. We have seen it in accounting scandals where auditors were more concerned about contracts than credibility. We have seen it in transactions where the bank was more worried about its own well-being than its clients and now we are seeing it in a case were a bank attempts to rig the entire market.
Now it is time to get the drains up and start cleaning out the sewage. And it is about more than just firing the miscreants and fining the banks. It is truly about back to basics. Ethics. Integrity. Honesty. Old fashioned words which never go out of date but which have become buried under the weight of money that corrupts the financial world.
Somewhere along the moral compass of those involved became corrupted and they forgot dictum like “my word is my bond.” Business schools no doubt shoulder part of their blame. After all, they are the ones who should add a much healthier respect for rules and regulations. As one lawyer once said by all means go around, bend and twist the rules….but never break them.
For me – the best outcome here is a full, frank and detailed investigation into who was in charge, what did they do and why didn’t they stop it. Then the best punishment I can mete out is for them to go and spend several weeks cleaning out public toilets and sewers.
Having allowed so much crap to be heaped on the rest of us and wallowed in the dirt and sewage for so long it is about time those who are proved to be ethically bankrupt financiers actually did some real cleaning up.