Dishonours system for entitled bankers

A cull of pension entitlements, directorates and honours is now catching up with some of the individuals who led Britain's banks into financial catastrophe.

Fred Goodwin was singled out for vilification over his role at Royal Bank of Scotland, and the head of HBOS business lending, Peter Cummings, was alone in being fined.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption James Crosby no longer wishes to be known as "Sir James"

But there's been little use of the regulator's power to withhold "fit and proper person" approval for those in senior financial positions, nor the business department's power to ban people as company directors.

We have yet to see prosecutions for manipulation of the Libor inter-bank lending rates.

And there has been nervousness about unpicking pension deals, due to contractual obligations. (Be careful what you wish for - if that contract law is compromised, the implications could be unwelcome for other pensioners and pension savers.)


"Sir" James Crosby - to use the title he wants to give up - wants to be proactive rather than waiting for his punishment.

He's ceased to be an adviser to a private equity firm, and given up a directorship at Compass catering group, while also giving up his cancer charity role. And although he's giving up 30% of his HBOS pension, that still looks like leaving him on £400,000 per year. So he's hardly likely to find himself worrying about the squeeze on welfare benefits.

It appears to be unprecedented that someone should ask to be stripped of a title. Less prestigious honours have been given up in protest at government policy, including those awarded to the Beatles.

The only record of a knighthood being given up was Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1919. He was protesting at the British army's massacre of defenceless protesters in Amritsar that year.

Whether or not Whitehall's honours re-scrutiny committee gives him his wish, Crosby can simply change his letter-heading. Meanwhile, his gambit may serve only to put more pressure on others named by the Banking Commission, and on the new regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to respond to the calls for individuals to take responsibility.

Andy Hornby succeeded Crosby as chief executive. He was on the bridge when the HBOS ship hit the rocks, and was judged to be "unable or unwilling to change course".

Bookies' choice

Yet with little pause for reflection, his reward has been a very lucrative continuing career, first as chief executive of Alliance Boots, the chemists' chain, and now in charge at Gala Coral, the leisure and bookmaker chain.

He doesn't have a title to lose, but he may be wary of threats to bar people as company directors.

Lord Stevenson of Coddenham was chairman of HBOS throughout its eight-year life. He was described by the Commission as one of those remaining "deluded" about the bank's responsibility for its fate.

As Dennis Stevenson, he was given a knighthood in 1997, which could be put through the honours committee with powers to remove it.

But removing the title he actually uses, along with his seat in the House of Lords, is near impossible unless there's a change in the law.