Five banks that employed traders who clubbed together to rig foreign exchange rates were handed fines totalling £2.7bn last week by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and US banking regulators. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, says James Titcomb in The Daily Telegraph.
Further penalties for manipulation in the forex scandal, Libor rigging and mis-selling could amount to as much as $69.9bn over the next two years, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley.
“Added to the $232bn put aside or paid out for misconduct and other regulatory fines since 2009, this would bring the banking industry’s total bill for misbehaviour to $302,069,000,000.”
News of the fines prompted a fresh round of hand-wringing. Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said the “appalling misconduct” in the forex market exposed how much more work there was to do to improve standards in the City, while Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, said he thought the Bank might still be suffering from “blind spots” years on from the financial crisis.
David Cameron said he thought there should be “consequences” for individuals found guilty of wrongdoing, as did Nick Clegg.
Yet, despite all the screaming politicians and newspaper headlines, “the taxpayer-funded bailouts, the losses running into billions and the misery inflicted on millions either indirectly by the government’s forced austerity measures or directly by mis-selling and fiddling the markets”, no banker has gone to jail in Britain for anything, says Chris Blackhurst in The Independent.
The simple reason for this is that “we do not take white-collar crime seriously enough”. It’s also an uphill struggle to convict. City law firms “pull every trick in the book to obstruct and obfuscate any attempt at prosecution”.
Although bank chiefs can no longer argue their banks are so big and their operations so complex that nobody could vouch for exactly what staff were up to, the level of criminal proof is “much higher” than it is for civil cases. Finding a jury that can understand “convoluted, technical arguments lasting several months” is difficult.
And so the “wearily familiar” pattern plays out, says Neil Collins in the FT. Those at the top express shock, the “self-interested brutes” are let go, and tighter controls are promised. But the fact that the forex fix took place after so many other scandals betrays senior bankers’ true feelings about reform.
There is a danger, too, that regulators and governments start to view these fines as “nice little earners”. Until the bigger shareholders insist on “reform rather than wilful ignorance of how this money is earned, this cycle will continue”.