Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Fit and Proper Persons in financial services - judge not, lest ye be judged

A quick note on the high-profile leadership-related crises which have reared their heads over the last couple of weeks, and whether the risk management professionals of the world can learn from them.

Two stories related to the flip-side of the kind of driven, charismatic figures that can progress rapidly through their chosen careers while coping with some rather spectacular character flaws. One being the ex-Chair of the UK's Co-operative Bank (already in financial turmoil), caught in a drugs and prostitutes sting this week, which has followed on from the city mayor of Toronto, who has been drawn into a similar web of videotaped misbehaviours.

Sticking with the financial services example, we have a number of issues which should interest the risk pros;

Some elements of the story are dominating the headlines, such as the gender of the prostitutes, the type of drugs used, or the fact that the Co-operative movement, purporting to have a higher calling than the soul-hoovering plcs, should perhaps be impervious to such matters. 

For me, we have a straigthtforward case of significant internal control failings across departments, a failure to hold senior management to account when breaching internal policies, and a very strong working example of a reverse stress test, combining a number of risk factors which in concert deliver a failed business model. On that basis, I would think that the business-as-usual risk teams across the country will be analysing this one until the cows come home.

How much of a bum-paddling the FSA/PRA deserve on this is another matter. Whether light-touch or prescriptive, I think regulators in many countries will wince at the details of the approval of Rev. Flowers' appointment once this one plays out at Treasury Select Committee over the coming weeks (I have no insider information, but let's face it, we'll be watching through our fingers!). 

For context however, in 2009 the FSA (as it was then) made a formal submission to the TSC addressing many of the failings uncovered by the retreating tide post-Lehmans/Bear Stearns/Northern Rock, and what Hector Sants & Co had planned to make up the shortfall. 

The TSC made a number of comments (sandwiched within the FSA's submission) which are worth highlighting today - I have emphasised the parts which should now echo in eternity;

The FSA's assessment of whether senior bankers were fit and proper for their posts appears to have been little more than a tick-box formality, unless the applicant had a criminal record or gave some other evidence of a shady past. That bar was demonstrably set too low. We welcome the acknowledgement from the FSA that a candidate's competence, as well as their probity, will now be thoroughly reviewed before taking up a senior post in a bank. We recognise that there may be some dangers in the FSA assessing competence, not least because the FSA will become exposed to accusations of incompetence itself, if it makes a wrong judgement

We recommend that the FSA assess whether bank executives should possess relevant qualifications. We would like to see banking qualifications become one of the core indicators against which the FSA can assess a candidate's competence. If a candidate has no relevant qualifications, the onus should be on them to prove to the FSA that they have relevant compensatory experience
And from the PRA themselves...
We strongly agree that it is important for bank executives to have the right level of skills and experience. As noted above, we have recently written to all CEOs of relationship-managed firms reminding them that it remains the firm's responsibility to ensure that the candidates they put forward are fit and proper to perform the role in question, and that firms should, therefore, have robust recruitment, referencing and due diligence processes in place
It was only three years ago - at what point do we (grim pun intended) practice what we preach on corporate governance in financial services?

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