My great privilege to report on banking's dire upheaval
This is my final “Bottom Line” column as Finance Correspondent for The Irish Times before I move to the United States to become Washington Correspondent. It has been a tumultuous five years covering the demise of the Irish banks from the peaks they held in 2007 to the deep gullies out of which they are now trying to climb.
Little did I know the people I would be asking questions of at press conferences five years ago covering bank results would be in the dock in the criminal courts facing questions of a far different kind.
In journalism, being in the right place at the right time is everything and becoming banking correspondent for a daily newspaper within days of queues forming at Northern Rock branches in Britain and Ireland meant luck played a big part in the timing of my decision to choose that role.
The banking crisis dragged financial news from well inside the newspaper on to the front pages most days and pushed the most technical minutiae of the workings of banking up the television and news bulletins for consumption by the masses.
Writing about the likes of credit default swaps for financially literate readers was one thing but explaining complex matters of banking to lay readers meant understanding it first (obviously) and writing about it clearly and in a way that you would not lose the reader by the third paragraph.
When a taxi driver launches into a diatribe about why subordinated bondholders shouldn’t get their money back, you know you have to stay on top of things.
It’s the little things that make you realise, in a crisis, that it’s not just financial anoraks reading your articles. I was in a late bar a few years back when two not-unattractive young women approached me. One asked how I thought Nama would work. I would be taking irresponsible journalistic licence if I said that approaches from such women in such circumstances were a regular occurrence.
Neither do you expect certain reactions during a crisis. One very wet morning, there was nothing but an Anglo Irish Bank umbrella (given to me as a joke) to grab at home as I rushed out to make a meeting. I started getting paranoid as taxi after taxi passed me by. I became even more paranoid later in the day when a cab ploughed into a puddle and drenched me. I understood then why a banker once wrote anonymously in this newspaper that he preferred to get wet rather than humiliated by carrying an Anglo umbrella.