Guest post by Andrew Crane and Dirk Matten.
The banking sector needs another scandal like a hole in the head. Or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Because a quick death from a headshot might be more preferable to the excruciating, but likely never fatal, torture of interminable crises that we seem to be constantly enduring.
The latest bout of banking misery comes from the UK, where Barclays, the retail and investment banking giant has fallen foul of regulators for manipulating the interbank interest rate over a number of years during the mid 2000s. It’s a huge scandal that looks set to engulf not just Barclays, but potentially also a slew of other banks, and even maybe the Bank of England and the UK Government.
One of the more interesting facets has been the reaction from Barclays. What a week it has been. First a number of senior executives including the CEO Bob Diamond reacted to the media criticism by announcing they would forgo their bonuses. Then, as the scandal escalated, the Barclays Chairman, Marcus Agius announced his resignation. In a dramatic turnaround, the following day Agius was reinstated and CEO Diamond announced his resignation, along with his right hand man, Jerry del Missier. Today Diamond faces
So the big question is: who really should go in a scandal like this? The Chairman, the CEO, or someone else? The answer, of course, depends on the type of scandal, the level of knowledge of the activity that the senior leadership had (or should of had) as the events unfolded, the likely best route to reform, and of course the likely reaction of stakeholders. With Barclays it seems right that Agius, the Chairman, has (on second thoughts) decided to stay. The Board is unlikely to know about an activity such as the interest rate rigging, and so cannot be held culpable in their overseeing function. It is different from, say, the role of the Board in something like Enron’s accounting fraud, which is directly related to the Board’s role, and relates to accounts that they must have seen and approved.
With Barclays, you would expect the Board and its Chairman to take a central role in dealing with the problem once it has been revealed to them, which apparently was only days ago. As one member of the House of Lords scathingly remarked upon Agius’s resignation: ”The board is so hopeless they’ve just shot the head of the firing squad and missed the prisoner.” By resigning Agius was signalling that the Board was unfit to be a “firing squad” and instigate the kind of change necessary at the bank.
Turning to Diamond, one of the main reasons forwarded for his resignation has been the “lightening rod” argument, as in the UK newspaper, The Guardian’s analysis: “Diamond, under pressure from the banking regulator and the governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, quit after he decided he would be the lightning rod for the scandal at the hearing”.