The Walker report is a lowest common denominator response to addressing corporate governance at UK banks. We need a deep overhaul of the financial system: much better regulation, longer-term thinking, and a break up of the investment banking mindsets which led to the financial crisis.
Giving non-executive directors more powers, scrutinising how they are appointed, or increasing regulation alone will make absolutely no difference. Non-executive directors already have the powers; it’s the culture of investment banking globally which must change.
Non-executive directors must spend more time understanding the bank on whose board they sit. They have to understand the culture, get to know the key managers in the bank, and spend more time in the bank appreciating the way business is done there. Banks also need to spend the resources to ensure their non-executives become familiar with how they operate.
We also need to split retail banking from investment banking. Retail banks must task themselves to make the funds available to generate wealth in our society but not to become so wealthy themselves. Investment banking should become a small niche operation, not such a global operation.
Best practice suggests that non-executive directors limit themselves to three to four appointments in their portfolios. This tends to be the practice in Australia, but it is not the case in the UK or the US, where some of the weakest boards exist.
Banks and other companies knew that the financial crisis would happen even before 2007. All but three of the over 600 risk managers, bankers, and audit and control officers which we interviewed in our recent Global Risk Survey (to be released 9 Dec) acknowledged this fact. Many reported their misgivings to top managers and board members, yet nothing happened.
Banks must reconsider their approach to risk and adjust their portfolio allocations accordingly. A longer-term approach to wealth creation and a fundamental change in banking culture must occur.
If others like Gordon Brown or the Walker report blame the global financial system, it is simply a way of absolving themselves of responsibility for what happened.