Bankers or Wankers?

 

Mobi Babble

There’s a bit of good news on the health front. After Noo called the hospital last week to report my deteriorating condition, they called back late that afternoon and I now have an appointment to see a cardiologist this coming Wednesday at noon. It is unclear what the purpose of this appointment is, but I was told to bring all my medical reports, details of my meds etc with me, so hopefully I will be given a date for my operation. Fingers crossed. I am now feeling a little better; it just seems to go up and down, day by day, but my BP is high pretty much all the time, despite my mountain of meds, so the sooner I have my op the better.

Here’s a couple of brief updates on my ‘Lakeside Gossip’ of 20th May.

I reported that my friend Simon, the one with the ‘Wife from hell’, was still separated from his wife and that he had succeeded in taking some important papers and other personal possessions out of the house and was now back at work in some distant oilfield. 

It now transpires that subsequent this preliminary skirmish, the money-grabbing, scheming Porn did in fact succeed in enticing Simon back to the marital fold, as I had always suspected she would. Just before Simon left Thailand to go back to work, he sent a text message to another friend, advising him that he was now ‘back home’ and ‘everything had been resolved with his wife’. He even asked his friend to pass the information onto ‘yours truly’, and to thank me for my advice which, yet again, he has elected to completely ignore.

There’s none so blind as those who will not see’….nothing much more to say, is there?

I also wrote about my Dutch friend Dick who was seriously ill with a duff liver. It now transpires that it wasn’t his liver at all but his kidneys that had failed – almost as bad as a dodgy liver – but talk about ‘Chinese whispers’!!!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Dick was on dialysis for over a week, but when I went to see him yesterday, he seemed to be on the mend and was looking much better, thank God.

 

Bankers or Wankers?

Much has been written on the subject of greedy bankers and how they have brought the world to the brink of economic Armageddon.

From the ‘occupy Wall Street’ mob, to the ‘sit in’ at St Pauls cathedral crowd, to the rioting, unemployed in Athens, to almost anyone you care to talk to on the subject of the recession, you will find that all are united in their condemnation of the wicked bankers.

Bankers weren’t always that bad. I recently watched an excellent documentary presented by the estimable Ian Hislop with the tantalising title of ‘When Bankers were good’. It was a fascinating insight into the late nineteenth century English bankers, who not only made enormous amounts of money, but also put their ‘ill-gotten gains’ to a host of philanthropic good causes.

Indeed, it was many of the leading bankers of those times who were amongst the first to recognise the need to help the more disadvantaged in Victorian society. The charitable actions by many bankers eventually prompted the state itself to take measures to improve the plight of the poor in the early 20th century.

So where did it all go wrong, and when was it that bankers became so selfish and greedy?

I firmly believe that many of today’s financial woes are a result of the unrelenting need to feed the insatiable demands of shareholders. In Victorian times, banks were owned by individuals, or families, and there was no outside lobby dictating to these wealthy bankers precisely how they were expected to dispose of their profits. These days, chief executives of public companies are answerable only to their shareholders.

And what do shareholders want?

More and more profits.

And how does an already profitable concern increase its profits? By expanding, by diversifying and by doing everything imaginable to add to its ‘bottom line’.

If profits do not increase and the company does not grow, year on year, regardless of how successful the company  has been in the past, then the executives will be replaced with new ones who are more capable of generating ever greater profits.

And just how do you get these executives to produce more profit in already  saturated markets?

By promising them untold riches in the form of bonuses if they succeed.

I am talking here about any public company you care to name; from Tesco, to BP to Cadbury Schweppes; but the market sector that is more profit /bonus driven than all the others, are the world’s financial institutions – the banks.

So how do the banks continue to meet shareholders expectations?

They do it by paying their key staff enormous bonuses to invent ever more convoluted schemes to generate ever more earnings.

As a result, over the last decade or so, a breed of bankers has evolved who live a rarefied existence in a world where their annual earnings are counted in millions, rather than thousands, and their desire for ever increasing amounts of money knows no bounds. Most of them earn so much money that there is no way that they could reasonably expect to spend even a fraction of it during their lifetimes, except on crazy and bizarre extravagances. These men are addicted to money and there is little they would shy away from in their business practises if it had the slightest chance of increasing their wealth.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for incentivising key employees in the form of good salaries and rewarding them with generous bonuses if they do a great job for their company; especially if they meet or exceed challenging targets. Indeed, in my own humble way, I – Mobi – was the happy recipient of a very generous salary and substantial bonuses to the extent that I was able to take early retirement and live ‘comfortably’ for the rest of my life some ten or more years ago.

But the level of salary and bonuses I was fortunate enough to earn, pales into insignificance when compared to the money made by these top bankers. For too many years it has got completely out of hand. I ask you? Just how much money does one person really need?

 I am not a liberal or a socialist and I believe people are entitled to keep what they have rightfully earned through the sweat of their own brow, and I also support a ‘laissez faire’ capitalist system, whereby market forces should determine what happens and that governments should refrain from undue intervention.

But enough is enough. These bankers have succeeded bringing the global economy to its knees and we are all a very long way from being out of the woods. The world looked on in horror as we saw such revered institutions as Leman Brothers go belly up and many more – such as Bear Sterns, AIG, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, HBOS, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bradford & Bingley, Fortis, Hypo and Alliance & Leicester come within a whisker of also doing so and had to be rescued by governments.

We learned about the massive frauds perpetrated;of ‘sub-prime’ mortgages and of  the ‘hedge funds’ which nobody outside the banking industry really understood. But we learned enough to realise that these hedge funds  were nothing more than a convoluted form of high stakes gambling.

And we further understood that these frauds and high risk transactions were undertaken in order to produce ever greater bonuses for the bankers concerned, with no thought of the future well-being of the banks, their shareholders , and most of all, their lowly depositors.

So having brought the world to its knees and having earned the justified condemnation of almost everyone on this planet, you would think that going forward, the banks would straighten up their acts and that the countries within whose jurisdictions they operate, would make sure that they did just that, and never again would we be at the mercy and irresponsible whims of money-hungry bankers

Yet here we are, four years on from the start of the banking meltdown and what we do find are some very disturbing signs.

The dust has settled, the banks that managed to survive have been suitably chastened to clean up their acts, so everything is hunky dory.

Or is it?

So which are the major banks who are leading the global charge into the brave new world of ‘banks behaving properly’?

Well, I think it would be reasonable to state that two banks near or at the top of the list are:  Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Do you agree?

So what have these two revered instructions been up to lately?

As far as I am aware, Goldman Sachs have not incurred any vast trading losses, in the past year or so, but what we do have is a very revealing and very worrying critical statement recently issued by one of its ex-employees.

In a public and scathing resignation letter, ex Goldman Sachs executive director, Greg Smith, has described the atmosphere at the massive investment bank “as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”

“Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs,” wrote Smith, who was the head of the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in an article in the New York Times entitled, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

Smith, who was based in London, was with Goldman for 12 years and went on to describe what he says is a deteriorating culture at Goldman Sachs where clients are called “muppets” and their interests are given short shrift.

“The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for,”

Smith blamed the culture shift on the chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn. “I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival,” Smith wrote.

He further claimed that executives at Goldman Sachs haven’t changed their behaviour even after the firm paid $550 million to settle a fraud lawsuit with the Securities and Exchange Commission and was accused by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of misleading clients.

“It makes me ill to hear how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets,’ sometimes over internal e-mail,” wrote Smith, who went to Stanford University on a full scholarship, and was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship.

In an emailed statement, Goldman Sachs responded: “We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business. In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves.”

So Smith was at Goldman Sachs for 12 long years – right through the worst of the global banking crisis, yet he claims that the bank is ‘as toxic and destructive as he had ever seen it.’ Smith’s claims that his ex -employer was ‘morally bankrupt’ had the unsettling effect of wiping no less than 2.2 billion dollars of their market value.

Worried? You should be….

But what is even more worrying is that the founder of a major a hedge fund was quoted as saying: The argument that Goldman has become increasingly profit- driven, sometimes at the expense of clients’ best interests, and that some employees use vulgar and disrespectful language, is hardly news. What’s the next ‘shocking’ headline: ‘Prostitution in Vegas!?’”

Now, how about JP Morgan? I’m sorry to tell you, that JPM has gone one step further than Goldman Sachs., as they have recently disclosed that they lost 2 billion dollars – and rising – after one of their top London based traders made ‘large bets on credit derivatives’

The losses were denied by the Chief executive for a while, calling the potential losses a ‘tempest in a teapot’; but eventually, he was obliged to admit the extent of the still spiralling losses which, by his own admittance, were due to the strategy being  ‘flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored.’ He added that he should have paid more attention!!!!!

Has anything really changed since 2008?  

Bankers or Wankers?

I’ll let you, my valued readers be the judge.

 

Robin Gibb – RIP

I was very sad to learn of the death of Robin Gibb the other day, even more so as it brought home to me my own mortality and the fact that I should make the most of what remains of my life, as I never know when my time is up. Robin was 62, and I am just 2 weeks away from my 66th birthday.

Being a teen-ager of the swinging sixties, I grew up with the music of the Bee Gees every bit as much as I grew up to the sounds of with the Beatles and the Stones. Between them they wrote some highly memorable songs and also had a unique and wonderful way of performing, much as the Beatles did.

Their longevity has been remarkable and over several decades they continued to reinvent themselves and provide endless musical pleasure to new generations of fans.

Personally, I always preferred their ballads, but have nothing against their ‘disco’ era which took the world by so much of a storm.

There are many Bee Gees tracks which, whenever I hear them, take me back to different periods in life.

Every time I hear Robin Gibb’s haunting vocals on ‘Massachusetts’, or ‘I started a joke’, they immediately evoke memories of my time in new York with Mardie, as they were monster hits at that time in the USA and were played over and over again on the radio. I used to sit in her apartment in Queens, waiting for her to come home from work, listening to those tracks and feeing  so lonely and melancholy – for even then, long before the final break-up,  I knew deep down that it was never going to work out with the lovely Mardie.

Other deep seated memories are of the Bee Gees’ younger, long departed brother, Andy, and his song ‘Shadow Dancing’ (written by all four brothers), and also the Bee Gees’ ‘How deep is your love’. These two tracks used to be played non-stop in the juke box  in Bangkok’s Grace Hotel coffee shop, in those long ago days when it wasn’t  a hangout for visitors from the Middle East and Africa. There was many a time I would spend half the night at the Grace, chatting up free-lance hookers, before adjourning to the trusty Thermae Coffee Shop at around 4 a.m., all to the strains of Andy, Barry, Robin and Maurice.

That beautiful ballad, ‘Too Much Heaven’ brings back memories of the time when I was running an entertainment company from my offices in Siam Square, Bangkok, in the late seventies/ early eighties .The song had just been released and we were promoting it on our radio station. It was just at the time when I made the momentous decision to quit my job in Thailand and relocate back to the UK with my then wife, Noi and daughter.

The memories of that song went with me. As I settled into my new life in England, I somehow felt an attachment to it, and followed its progress through the UK charts. In point of fact it only ever became a very minor hit. These days it is a ‘standard’ and recognised for the wonderful ballad it is ; but for me, it will always be the song in my heart when I made that life changing decision to go back to the UK.

I could go on and on.

This year, Robin released an album entitled ‘Titanic Requiem’, a classical composition, in collaboration with his son to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.

He was scheduled to appear and perform at its first public performance, but was too ill to do so. However, his recording of the track ‘Don’t Cry Alone’, was played at the performance and now, as a fitting to tribute to Robin, I set out the lyrics of this lovely song below.

Also, please click on the link and listen to Robin singing his very last song. His voice is as strong and crystal clear as I have ever heard him sing;   I’m sure you will love listening to it and maybe shed a tear for this talented singer- song writer who sadly is no longer with us.

Don’t Cry Alone – Robin Gibb

If your heart is breaking

 I’m yours whatever.
I will not forsake you ever,

Don’t cry alone.

Through the autumn rainfalls

I’ll be your shoulder;
If the winds of love grow colder,

Don’t cry alone.

Surely as the sun sets

New suns are rising.
As winter herald’s spring’s horizon,

Don’t cry alone.

Don’t you ever doubt me

 You lead I will follow.

Sweep away all pain and sorrow,

Don’t cry alone.

No, don’t cry alone.

No, don’t you ever doubt me;

I’ll be there for you forever.
Don’t you ever cry

I’ll sweep away your tears and sorrow
And I’ll be with you close tomorrow.
I’ll be with you

Don’t cry alone.
I’m yours.

Don’t cry alone.

 

Don’t Cry Alone

Butt… Butt…Butt…I don;’t give a Hoot….