Untouchable execs make banks tough to trust

The sector can hardly expect to be in the good books given the impunity it has enjoyed

A senior executive accountability regime has been promised since late 2018. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A senior executive accountability regime has been promised since late 2018. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The good news is that the number of workers in the Irish banking sector who think they’re employed by ethical organisations has improved – albeit from a low base – in the past few years.

An industry survey published by the fledgling Irish Banking Culture Board on Monday showed that two-thirds of people working in the industry believe there is now no conflict between their bank’s stated values and how it actually does business – up from 56 per cent in 2018.

The bad news is that another survey from the board shows the general public remain unconvinced. Some 43 per cent say their perception of banks has only worsened since the 2008 financial crash.

For an industry that moved quickly to extend blanket Covid-19 payment breaks last year, helping 175,000 borrowers, this may be disappointing.

But with only two-thirds of the €30 billion bailout bill for the State’s three surviving banks having been repaid, the tracker mortgage scandal still grabbling headlines and banks disenfranchising the most vulnerable as the pace of branch closures accelerates, the sector can hardly expect to be in the good books.

The real issue is that, even though the Central Bank has imposed close to €100 million fines since the financial crash, only a tiny amount of this has come from individuals taken to task. Currently, the Central Bank can only go after individuals once they have proven that their firm as breached rules.

And even, at that, standing up a case against an executive is costly and fraught with difficulties.

A senior executive accountability regime – which would turn the current regime on its head and make it easier for the Central Bank to go after top financial executives for failings under their watch – has been promised since late 2018. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said at the time that he would introduce the heads of a Bill in early 2019.

We’re still waiting. The latest from the Minister, on Monday, is that he “hopes” to publish the heads of the Bill in July, “subject to agreement by the Attorney General”.

How can the public view of banks improve if executives continue to be seen as untouchable in cases of wrongdoing?

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