It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since one of the worst economic recessions in modern times. Casting our minds back to the catastrophic events of 2007/2008 we might recall the ‘straws in the wind’, the early signs that things were not right and then the series of unfolding corporate failures that started with Lehman Brothers in September 2008.
This is not the place to revisit the causes of that meltdown, although it has even been suggested that the terrible Challenger space shuttle disaster in January 1986 contributed to it. After that, many highly skilled but jobless IT people from NASA joined banks eager to take advantage of their expertise in developing increasingly complex derivative instruments that unfortunately made it difficult to easily identify the real risks involved.
Since then the overall economy has experienced a gradual recovery – more perhaps than a ‘dead cat bounce’ but not stratospheric growth either. Financial sector businesses have varied in how they have fared, with some doing better than others.
For example this week Lloyds Banking Group reported a 24% increase in profits to £5.3bn, a distinct improvement on being bailed out by the British Government to the tune of over £21bn when they faced a black hole in the newly-acquired HBoS balance sheet. How have they achieved this remarkable transformation?
Well, much is the result of the work of their CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio – whose reward this year will exceed £6m. He has had to cope with massive claims for mis-sold PPI (which continue), increased competition, latterly from Open Banking, and sharp decline in footfall at their branches which has led to 200 closed last year alone. The main measures have been focused cost-cutting and returning to being what Lloyds always was – a well-run commercial business. This has been at some personal cost to Osorio – spending 2 months off with stress including a stay in the Priory Clinic in 2011. Nevertheless, the taxpayer has had all their money back, plus a bit.
Of course, one of the simple factors helping them and other banks return to profitability is the gradual and likely to be persistent rise in interest rates. This is helping a little at RBS Group which has just recorded its first profit since the crash - £752m.
However, in a marked contrast to the Lloyds story, RBS – saved by HMG at the same time – are still government-owned to the tune of 73%. A far cry from being for a short time the largest in the world after a period of growth driven by aggressive acquisitions – have the actions of Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin faded from the public consciousness? There is also the potential of a large fine from the US Dept. of Justice hanging over them, and in the autumn budget last year, it was proposed that HMG’s stake would be sold off at a projected loss of £26bn.
Finally, Barclays, one of the oldest banks in the country, have done OK since their rescue by a series of investment s from Qatar in 2008 which enabled them to reject offers of help from the Government. They recently posted a net loss of £1.92m (partly caused by a one-off charge of £901m from the US government) but their shares have gone up by 5% with news of a doubling of their dividend this year and a pre-tax operating profit up 10% at £3.54m. CEO Jes Staley is confident this will be their first year of a ‘clean operating model’. However, there is still potential legal action relating to the Qatari investment in the mix.
Only last week the SFO advised that they were widening the scope of their investigations to include Barclays Bank Plc from the original charges relating to unlawful financial assistance laid at the door of the parent company and four individuals. The ultimate sanction from this action could be the suspension of their banking licence.
So, the City of London continues to experience turmoil and uncertainty. If you would like to see some of the key institutions for yourself, hear stories of the fascinating past in coffee houses and livery halls, as well as thoughts about the future, then join one of our Finance tours. These are led by knowledgeable, experienced and informative guides who will bring the past, present and future to life.