Fingleton inquiry must try to get inside inner circle - if possible
Fingleton may have been spendthrift with Irish Nationwide’s big customers, but he was penny-pinchingly tight with staff
When Michael Fingleton stepped down as chief executive of Irish Nationwide at the end of April 2009, the small group that could loosely be described as his inner circle gathered around him in the seventh-floor boardroom of the building society’s Grand Parade head office to send him off.
It was awkward at first; the circumstances of his departure hardly merited a celebration.
He had succumbed to months of political pressure to leave over the controversial €1 million bonus he received in 2008, paid shortly after Irish Nationwide and the rest of the Irish banking system were saved by the Government with an unprecedented guarantee in the name of the Irish State. There were also heavy losses coming down the track, particularly on Irish Nationwide’s €9 billion commercial property loans, mostly on land and development.
Proceedings kicked off with Stan Purcell, Fingleton’s long-serving second-in-command, saying a few words; they were more factual than complimentary, telling the select gathering how Fingleton had run the building society since the early 1970s and wishing him the best for the future.
But as the beer, brandy and whiskey flowed for the few that remained on in the boardroom that evening, Fingleton started to warm up, answering questions about his best deal in banking, those who had influenced him and the famous people he had met.
The low-key send-off said a lot about Fingleton the man and the financial institution he ran. Even the few loyal building society staff that surrounded him that evening barely knew the man; this was the first time “Mr Fingleton” had opened up, even to them.
People who worked for “Fingers” remark on two things in the main. They describe how he had an impressive capacity to retain complex financial detail in his head and how he kept a tight rein on costs, giving him ultimate control over the building society, more so than any other chief executive at an Irish financial institution. Irish Nationwide’s cost-income ratio was the lowest in Irish banking and this was something he bragged about.
Fingleton may have been spendthrift with Irish Nationwide’s big customers, but he was penny-pinchingly tight with staff. For a long time he wouldn’t permit staff to park in the large space at the back of the Grand Parade head office. One former staff member believed he had wanted a park-and-ride facility for the Luas, which ran beside the building. Employees remember having to run out regularly to feed parking meters in the neighbouring streets.