x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sometimes sorry is the hardest word

They came, they were seen, and for the first time since the banking crisis began, they said "sorry".

Andy Hornby, the former chief executive of HBOS, appearing penitent before the Treasury Select Committee in London.
Andy Hornby, the former chief executive of HBOS, appearing penitent before the Treasury Select Committee in London.

They came, they were seen, and for the first time since the banking crisis began, they said "sorry". Four of Britain's leading bankers told members of parliament that they were "profoundly and unreservedly sorry" for prompting the largest government bailout in the country's history. Like naughty schoolboys caught stealing from the tuck shop, the former bank bosses - Sir Fred Goodwin and Sir Tom McKillop, the former chief executive and chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), and Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson, the former chief executive and chairman of Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) - did their best to try to justify their actions.

"We are profoundly and unreservedly sorry at the turn of events," said Lord Stevenson. "Our shareholders, all of us, have lost a great deal of money, including a great number of our colleagues. There has been huge anxiety caused for our customers. We are sorry at the effect on the communities we've served." Not quite the remorse we were after, but let's move on. Andy Hornby, the youthful-looking HBOS boss who finished first in his class at Harvard, looked quite red-faced, which was a pity as this clashed with his pink shirt. "We're very sorry for what's happened at HBOS. It's affected communities in which we live and serve, it's clearly affected taxpayers, and we are extremely sorry for the turn of events that's brought it about," he said.

HBOS has been entirely swallowed by Lloyds TSB in the newly formed Lloyds Banking Group after the lender fell victim to the financial crisis. RBS is now 68 per cent owned by the government and has been propped up with £20bn (Dh109.24bn) of public money. None of them thought the tuck shop should be closed for good. "There is no doubt that the bonus system in many banks around the world has proven to be wrong in the last 24 months," Mr Hornby told MPs. "In the two years that I have been chief executive, I've lost considerably more money in shares than I have been paid," he added. Throughout the British Isles, there was the sound of hearts breaking for the poor fellow.

Asked whether short-term bonuses should be repaid, Lord Stevenson said he "would rather not be drawn on that question". Or hanged and quartered either, presumably. Mr Hornby was asked why he had been retained as a consultant to Lloyds TSB on a fee of £60,000 a month. He said that he only wanted the arrangement to continue for three months and that, if they still wanted him after that, he would work for free.

Asked whether he felt personally responsible for what happened to HBOS, Mr Hornby said he was not "personally culpable". Sorry, but it wasn't his fault. Then the four bankers left to play conkers, and afterwards went to the bike shed for a sneaky cigarette. rwright@thenational.ae Unreservedly sorry, b9