I should be used to offensive or thoughtless language from bankers and bonkers behaviour by their PR teams but I was genuinely shocked this morning at various articles in the press today.
Top of the list are the two articles in the Times where the CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio (AH-O) gives chapter and verse on an incredibly stressful period of his life as Lloyds boss. Knowing a lot about stress and how debilitating it is, I fully understand that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your personal circumstances are – inside your own bubble, you are still having a crisis.
However, the subject of people getting stressed because of banks is such a sensitive one, given how many thousands of bank clients are stressed to the point of being suicidal, I wonder why on earth the PR department of Lloyds Banking Group would make the Banks CEO such an easy and obvious target for outrage?
I imagine being the CEO of a major Bank is a very stressful job – which is why they are paid mega bucks. But there are huge differences between being stressed because of a well-paid job which, if you really can’t cope, you can resign from and being stressed because a Bank has destroyed your life, your business, your future, your reputation and, in some cases, your sanity – and you can’t resign from this situation – or check in to the Priory – or retire and live on a pension which, unfortunately for you, you no longer have because and unlike Mr AH-O, you’ve been asset stripped of everything.
There is no comparison between the stress Mr AH-O has suffered and the stress so many SME owners (and their family, staff and shareholders) have suffered. Therefore, while I would never suggest the stress Mr AH-O suffered was of no consequence or that mental illness isn’t a very serious issue that should be given a better platform, his two articles are unbelievably insensitive and offensive to the many who are still in a very dark place through no fault of their own and, in some cases, because of Lloyds Banking Group.
In the same way I have always been very grateful to many journalists who have helped expose the Reading fraud (Ian Fraser, Tom Harper, Andy Verity, James Hurley, Siobhan Kennedy and many others), I am also very grateful to Jonathan Ford, City Editor of the FT for his excellent article about HBOS Reading which has coincided with the Mr AH-O articles in the Times. The online article came out on Thursday and the six-page hard copy article came out in the FT today (7th). Comparing the two articles, there’s a very stark example of the inequality the Country is suffering. Suffering for Mr AH-O meant he was put off his tennis game, he didn’t enjoy his family holiday in Indonesia and he suffered a bad bought of insomnia. Speaking as a victim of HBOS Reading, I can confirm my own version of stress was years of insomnia, no holidays and 22 horrendously stressful eviction hearings. I did consider suicide but only in a wishful thinking sort of way as I had two teenage daughters to think of and a very strong husband who has pulled us all through these terrible years.
I realise none of what I (or many others) went through alters how Mr AH-O was feeling back in 2011 and I genuinely hope he is fully recovered. All the same, if I was him I would sack his PR team because they made him a sitting duck and will, I think, cause him more stress.
I would imagine one of the most stressful things about Mr AH-O’s job is knowing the truth about the Bank and managing that truth. The other disturbing articles I’ve read today – or indeed in the last few days – are about how much truth has been buried for the benefit of the public. An article in The Times yesterday reported how the Bank of England was economical with the truth during the financial crisis. Andy Haldane, the BoE chief economist at the time said:
“It is not always and everywhere the case that greater openness and transparency is a good thing. And that’s certainly true in my world.
“Had we been fully open and fully transparent about what was going on during the financial crisis, it would, let me tell you, have been a lot, lot worse. That would have been [like] shouting ‘fire’ in the theatre.
Mr Haldane is right about one thing, the crisis in 2008 was considerably worse than the public was allowed to know. I’m sure everyone at the BoE was trying to juggle so many flaming swords, they all wished they could book into the Priory. Trouble is, years later and as the real truth comes out, many people are wondering if the lies told (and that’s what they were) were for the benefit of the Country or told in order to cover up the fact the whole Country had been collectively mugged by the Banks? The fire in Mr Haldane’s theatre could and probably was full of bankers and what the BoE did was bring in the Fire Brigade – but was it for the public benefit? If it was, how comes the whole Country has been crippled by austerity so the NHS is on its knees, the police can’t even afford to investigate the epidemic of financial crime our banks still persist in using as every day conduct, young people can’t afford University fees or housing and hundreds of families are relying on food banks? Is that how we benefited?
In the same way Lloyds Banking Group has been economical with the truth of what it knew about HBOS Reading, Ross McEwan has been economical with the truth about RBS GRG division, the BoE, FSA, FCA, FRC, PRA have been economical with the truth about almost everything to do with the Banks and their auditors – I fail to see how this has been beneficial to the Country? Maybe it would have been had the BoE and the regulator used the financial crash as a lesson learned and made sure banks really did clean up their acts? But they didn’t so we can expect a new financial melt down any time from now.
All we have years later is a lot of stressed people – bankers, bank customers, bank victims – and a struggling economy. So who has benefited from all these beneficial lies? And how much longer will the lies or spin of the truth continue? Clearly it’s in full flow today and my guess is Antonio Horta-Osorio is still stressed and, needless to say, so am I as too are so many victims of HBOS Reading, RBS/GRG, Lloyds BSU and other banks BSUs. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if stress levels in this country are at an all time high.