Fingleton inquiry must try to get inside inner circle - if possible
Staff also recall Fingleton, who was among the last to leave the building every evening, walking the floors of the Grand Parade head office pulling phone-chargers out of the walls, switching off plug sockets and turning out lights, such was his obsession with keeping costs down.
Fingleton never liked revealing too much about Irish Nationwide, even internally. He was never comfortable with the list of the top 50 exposures (borrowers) being printed off every month as was necessary if the building society’s management was to keep track of loans.
While this approach may have been tough on staff, the building society’s big borrowers liked Fingleton’s hands-on role. Customers, mostly property developers, took comfort that the big man himself was signing off on their deals. It was even better when Irish Nationwide became a player in deals as Fingleton agreed to fund developments at 100 per cent of the loan-to-value if the building society could take up to half the future profits.
Fingleton’s successor, Gerry McGinn, remarked last year that there were only two rooms at Grand Parade where top clients could be met: the boardroom or Fingleton’s adjoining office. “One guy made the decisions here – the layout of the building reflects that,” he said.
As property markets turned, this tight control on costs and staff back-fired. There were just two managers – Belfast-based Gary McCollum and Fingleton’s son Michael jnr – in charge of UK commercial loans of €5 billion while another six managed about €4 billion of Irish property loans. Irish Nationwide struggled to cope under Fingleton.
Staff at Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the former Anglo Irish Bank which is in charge of running down Irish Nationwide, are now moving back into the Grand Parade building following a refurbishment as IBRC closes offices to reduce costs. The move coincides with the approaching fourth-anniversary of the payment of Fingleton’s controversial €1 million bonus which still has to be repaid as he promised.
In the background, the Central Bank is quietly building a case against Fingleton over the reckless lending by the building society during his tenure. Regulatory officials have met everyone from former low-ranking staff to some of the big developers that Fingleton bankrolled. The investigation must get inside Fingleton’s inner circle to understand how Irish Nationwide did its business if it is to hold him to account for Irish Nationwide’s €5.4 billion cost to the State.
Finding that evidence in a circle of one will be the difficult part.