German Domination of Europe – When will they learn that there is a better way

German Domination of Europe – When will they learn that there is a better way

The poignant D Day events of last Friday reminded me that this year is also the centenary since the start of the First World War, or the Great War as it is more commonly known. Although I have many good friends in Germany, and hold absolutely no prejudice against the German people of today, it occurred to me that, for 100 years, the elite of Germany have attempted to mould Europe in their own image, initially through two catastrophic world wars, and currently through self-serving political and economic influence within the European Union.

It cannot be disputed that the engine-room behind the introduction of the Euro was Germany, and in spite of the so-called stringent rules of entry into the Euro, Germany allowed such rules to be significantly relaxed to allow countries to participate where compliance with the entry rules would result in such countries otherwise unlikely to qualify for entry for years to come. It is no secret that Germany has significantly prospered under the Euro – at the expense of the other member nations. These nations now seek financial support, and the German Government have a hard time selling these bailouts to the already over-taxed German people, albeit a problem created by Germany in its self-serving quest for the domination of Europe.

Sometimes I reflect that Germany, having left Europe devastated in 1945, forgets that much of their subsequent prosperity was built on their substantial participation in the Marshall Plan (whereas the United Kingdom, as victor, did not qualify for any such support and has been required the swallow the cost of the wars, and rebuild using its own resources). As with the so-called super-model of Japanese prosperity in the 1980’s I do not subscribe to the German economic model of today, and certainly would strongly oppose this model being at the centre of the European Union. The current German economic model has a fundamental incestuous instability at its core, just like the proverbial pack of cards, and just as with Japan before its economy collapsed.

And this week the German elite are flexing their self-serving muscle again by instruction Angela Merkel to support a tame federalist like Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, a move that is counter to the fundamental reforms needed by all donor nations – except Germany.

I have just noticed a news headline  ‘German chancellor Angela Merkel has cautioned David Cameron not to use threats of a UK exit from the EU in his campaign to block a federalist candidate from taking the helm of the European Commission.

Without these reforms my view is that the UK should not threaten to leave the EU, but make it very clear to Germany through the promised referendum that the people of the UK do not see their future dominated by the German vision of Europe. Maybe then the UK will have to pick up the pieces of an imploded Europe for the third time.


The Morality of Dishonesty

univestThe Morality of Dishonesty

The following story was relayed to me in a somewhat cruder form last week. The original author is unknown to me. However it had some interesting observations and so I have edited it into a relevant form for today’s society.

A few years ago two armed thieves robbed a bank – one of them shouted: “Don’t move! The money belongs to the bank. Your lives belong to you.”  Immediately all the people in the bank laid on the floor quietly and without panic.

This is an example of how the correct wording of a sentence can make everyone change their world view.

One woman lay on the floor in a provocative manner. The older robber approached her saying, “Madam this is a robbery not a rape. Please behave accordingly.”

This is an example of how to behave professionally, and focus on the goal.

While running from the bank the younger robber (who had a University degree) said to the older robber (who barely finished basic education): “Hey, maybe we should count how much we stole.” The older man replied: “Don’t be stupid. It’s a lot of money so let’s wait for the news channels to be told how much was taken from the bank.”

This is an example of how life experience is more important than a degree.

After the robbery, the manager of the bank said to his accountant: “Let’s call the police.” The accountant replied “Wait – before we do that let’s add to the robbery the £800,000 that we took ourselves a few months ago and claim that it was stolen in the robbery.”

This is an example of taking advantage of an opportunity.

The following day it was reported in the news that the bank was robbed of £3 million.  The robbers counted the money, but they found only £1 million, so they started to grumble. “We risked our lives for £1 million, while the bank’s management stole two million pounds without blinking? Maybe it’s better to learn how to work the system, instead of being a simple robber.”

This is an example of how knowledge can be more useful than power.

Moral:  Give a person a gun, and he can rob a bank – at great personal risk. Give a person a bank, and he can rob everyone – with little personal risk.

Work Related Stress – Do Corporates understand this problem, and do they care?


Work Related Stress – Do Corporates understand this problem, and do they care?

Are major corporates playing lip service to EU OSHA (The European Agency for Safety & Health at Work) guidelines on work related stress and psychosocial risks? Having recently had the opportunity to review this campaign, and the proposed methodology of incorporation into a multinational corporate environment, where the primary implementation was the proposed OSHA poster campaign, and the implied consideration was not to blame management, I have my doubts that management understand the significant impact to bottom-line resulting from a stressed workforce.

What do we mean by stress and psychosocial risks? – as defined by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Psychosocial risks arise from poor work design, organisation and management, as well as a poor social context of work, and they may result in negative psychological, physical and social outcomes such as work-related stress, burnout or depression. Some examples of working conditions leading to psychosocial risks are:

  • excessive workloads;
  • conflicting demands and lack of role clarity;
  • lack of involvement in making decisions that affect the worker and lack of influence over the way the job is done;
  • poorly managed organisational change, job insecurity;
  • ineffective communication, lack of support from management or colleagues;
  • psychological and sexual harassment, third party violence.

When considering the job demands, it is important not to confuse psychosocial risks such as excessive workload with conditions where, although stimulating and sometimes challenging, there is a supportive work environment in which workers are well trained and motivated to perform to the best of their ability. A good psychosocial environment enhances good performance and personal development, as well as workers’ mental and physical well-being.

Workers experience stress when the demands of their job are greater than their capacity to cope with them. In addition to mental health problems, workers suffering from prolonged stress can go on to develop serious physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal problems.

For the organisation, the negative effects include poor overall business performance, increased absenteeism, presenteeism (workers turning up for work when sick and unable to function effectively) and increased accident and injury rates. Absences tend to be longer than those arising from other causes and work-related stress may contribute to increased rates of early retirement, particularly among white-collar workers. Estimates of the cost to businesses and society are significant and run into billions of euros at a national level.

How significant is the problem?
Stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe.
A European opinion poll conducted by EU-OSHA found that more than a half of all workers considered work-related stress to be common in their workplace. The most common causes of work-related stress were job reorganisation or job insecurity (reported by around 7 in 10 respondents), working long hours or excessive workload and bullying or harassment at work (around 6 in 10 respondents). The same poll showed that around 4 in 10 workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.

In the larger Enterprise Survey on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) around 8 in 10 European managers expressed concern about work-related stress in their workplaces; however, less than 30% admitted having implemented procedures to deal with psychosocial risks. The survey also found that almost half of employers consider psychosocial risks more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ or more obvious occupational safety and health risks.

Having considered these definitions, and reflected on my own experience over the years creating, changing or rescuing investment banking operations I found myself compiling my top ten reasons for stress in the workplace. In no particular order they are:

  • Managers who rule by fear and/or dictate cause stress
  • Managers who do not know how to manage people cause stress
  • Managers who fear for their own position cause stress
  • Managers promoted under the Peter Principle cause stress
  • Managers who are emotional and/or insecure in the decision process cause stress
  • Managers who promote politics or other unhealthy competition amongst their staff cause stress
  • Managers who do not have an intimate knowledge of the business cause stress
  • Inexperienced people – wrong people for the job – cause stress
  • People suffering stress in their private life are prone to suffer stress in the workplace
  • Likewise people stressed in the workplace can take it home and cause stress in their private life which then reflects back into the workplace

My generic definition of a manager in this list is a strategic or tactical role, from main Board director down to line manager.

Therefore, from my own experience over many years, both as a Director of Operations and Management Consultant, my observation is that management are by far the most significant cause of stress in the workplace. This is logical if you think about it because these are the people who define the workplace.

The workplace that I speak of is probably one of the most stressful. Investment banking operations are extremely dynamic, constantly changing to meet new market demands, every transaction dealt during a trading day must be processed that day, imperfect settlement means that on a normal day some 30% of transactions fail (significant funding and hedging cost considerations), more on a volatile trading day, and little errors can result in a high cost. A typical trading day could see some USD 3 billion of turnover with an average transaction value of some USD 4 million or equivalent in other currencies. An error of just 0.25% on such volumes could result in a daily loss of some USD 7.5 million – the cost to run such operations for 1 year. So the stakes are high, and there is no room for errors.

With this background in mind it should not be too difficult to imagine the impact of any of the stress situations that I have identified above. During my career I have experienced the stress caused by poor management ranging from excessive demand on staff both in effort and time, fear, incompetence, poor leadership, breaches of human dignity, mental cruelty, demand for favour (including sexual), and physical brutality. I have experienced the human impact caused by workplace stress, whether it be mental breakdown in the workplace requiring long-term medical treatment, broken marriages, dropout, and even a premature death resulting from a mental beating from a tyrant director. In the environments in which I have worked it would be very unusual not to experience the extremes of human behaviour as it is a dynamic people business, and attracts some of the most aggressive people, many of whom have no understanding of compassion, or consideration of the impact of their decisions on others.

Examples of managers who rule by fear and/or dictate are plentiful. These people are particularly bad if they have an emotional character, and/or are very insecure. If these people are given too much power they can raise havoc in the workplace. Whether they like you or not carries more weight than merit, and total loyalty is a pre-requisite irrespective of how bad the leadership, or poor the business decisions. Very much also depends on their mood on the day resulting in erratic business decisions. Sacrificial lambs are a feature of such people as they comply with the final phases of poor management, i.e. punishment of the innocent, and decoration of the uninvolved. A manager makes a mistake; some innocent underling becomes the sacrificial lamb and loses their job.

For those not familiar with the phases of a management doomed for failure I will recount the origin of the eight original phases, which I see have now been condensed to seven or even six. In the mid-1970’s I was with Chase Manhattan Bank engaged in a project being managed by the consulting firm Arthur Anderson (no longer with us). After the first year the progress of this project was so dysfunctional that a group of us within the bank compiled the equivalent of a university Rag Mag for Christmas 1977. We identified the phases of our dysfunctional project as Confidence, Enthusiasm, Confusion, Disillusionment, Panic, Search for the Guilty, Punishment of the Innocent, and Decoration of the Uninvolved. For those who remember we also designed the tie with the motif of a picture of an anchor with a ‘W’ underneath it as presents for the associated Arthur Anderson staff, and still widely available in the City of London. This was not my first experience of poor management, and the associated profound stresses on the staff, but it was by far my most prolonged period of continual stress as a result of chronic management.

I was later asked to restructure an investment bank where the existing debt securities operations was a shambles. Operations staff were working an average 60 – 80 hours per week, there was no integration of the various functions involved, politics and finger-pointing was rife, poor transaction processing was the norm, moral was non-existent, and systems were wholly inadequate.

Having immediately realised that the executive management was located 18 floors above the operations totally removed from what was happening, and the various departmental heads were lacking the knowledge required for the business, my first task was to make it clear to the management all the way up to chairman of the bank that there would be no interference, that no-one, including the MD and Chairman, could request anything from any of my staff without coming through me first, and that my authority extended across the trading floors. I also refused to join them, preferring to have my office within the operations area (which was later mimicked by the MD). As the former head of settlements had suffered a nervous breakdown I recruited a known entity to fulfil this role, and replaced all department heads who were either not qualified, or not capable. Within 3 months anyone still on the floor at 6pm had to write down why they were still there, and put it on my desk. This is a psychological process more for them than for me as they have to read what they have written, and thus ask themselves whether or not it is credible. I needed them to go home to their families, and return fresh the next day to meet the ever present challenges of a new trading day.

After 25 weeks we had a fully integrated professional operation with new in-house systems. Politics on the floor was actively discouraged, and my door was always open to anyone on the floor for non-business related issues. At least twice each year we had informal gatherings for all staff and their families at which other halves were actively encouraged to raise any concerns they had. For every 5 people on the floor a representative was appointed, and these people were encouraged to meet together monthly to discuss any issues affecting the working environment (necessary feedback). Their output came directly to me, was taken seriously, and corrections made when necessary. We had a hard working, but happy group of people with the only workplace stress being that caused by the normal everyday imperfections in the business sectors in which we operated.

From experience I would suggest that the maxim for a stress-free workplace is to rule by consent, and lead by example.

Before restructuring this investment bank it was losing some £2 million per month through stress related errors caused directly by poor management. Therefore corporates need to understand that the overwhelming cause of stress in the workplace is poor management. Neither poster campaigns or denial will address this problem. The impact on the bottom line can be substantial if such stress is not taken seriously.

A New Multilateralism – Realisable or Wishful Thinking?


A New Multilateralism – Realisable or Wishful Thinking?

I listened to the Richard Dimbleby Lecture on Monday evening with expectation of some new thinking on the way forward. The lecture was called ‘A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century’ and was presented by Christine Lagarde, incumbent MD of the IMF. My initial reaction was that it presented some interesting ideas, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the relevance of these ideas. So, on Tuesday, I printed off the transcript of her speech from the IMF website. Having now studied this speech in some detail I find it endorses my view that the multilateral institutions of which she leads the IMF are essentially out of touch with the real problems that we face in the 21st century.

Back in the 1970’s, during the oil boom, individuals in the Middle East were accumulating vast amounts of US Dollars in cash because Western banks did not want it. Indeed I remember Swiss banks charging up to 3% p.a. to take these deposits. I actually walked into a room in a palace and saw a pile of US Dollars, and was told that this pile amounted to USD 1 billion. In an attempt to give some visual impression of this pile I am reliably informed that a standard 40ft sea container will hold USD 1 billion in fresh print USD 100 denomination bills. This money was not participating in any economic benefit whatsoever, and there was no possibility that the owner could reasonably consume these funds in their lifetime. Yet just one mile away there were ordinary working people struggling to find the money for their next meal. It occurred to me that if these funds were deposited with SAMA, and used productively producing even a nominal return, such return could be used productively to provide food for these people without any degradation to the original money. Yet the owner had no interest in such a proposition, and was content to accumulate yet more piles to look at.

Unfortunately this sorry tale has since increased in propensity, and as we saw a few weeks ago, Oxfam calculated that the 85 richest people have the same wealth as the bottom half of the World’s population. Christine Lagarde added that the richest 1% in the USA captured 95% of all income gains since 2009, yet the number of people in the USA needing food parcels to survive is now reaching pandemic proportions. She further states that in India the net worth of the billionaire community increased 12 fold in the past 15 years, enough to eliminate the poverty of that country twice over. So why has she not rationalised this into the real threat to the World Order in the 21st century?

We have seen so many billionaires created out of emerging economies such as the former Soviet Union, China, and India, sapping vast amounts of sovereign assets. The rapid nature of such wealth creation should arouse suspicion. However the point that I make is that somehow a few own wealth beyond any reasonable expectation of spending throughout their life. Many will say that they invest much of their wealth, but this only increases their existing wealth. Having met a number of these oligarchs their primary objective is to continue to increase their wealth, usually at the expense of others.

What about if each billionaire set aside USD 1 billion for investment and applied just the income to relieving poverty.

In 2013 an investment return of 15%+ was easily achievable. This would provide in excess of USD 150 million from each billion invested. The billionaire has not lost their capital, but much could be achieved with the income stream. Of course a few of these billionaires are already philanthropic and names like Bill Gates easily come to mind, and who clearly understands that he does not need such vast wealth, so uses his business judgement to make every dollar count in his selected beneficial projects.

Having brushed along with the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN for over 30 years I would suggest that they are political institutions populated by political appointees and academics who have no idea about the real world. I have witnessed a number of World Bank projects which did no more for the recipient country than to provide work for a donor country corporate, create an inappropriate monster that, within 5 years, was derelict leaving the recipient with sovereign debt but with no value to show for it. I have also seen appropriate solutions costing a fraction of the price of the expensive inappropriate concrete alternative discarded because the amount of the appropriate solution did not warrant World Bank intervention. It is interesting that Christine Lagarde acknowledges that it was the fast response of the G20 that stopped the world descending into meltdown 5 years ago rather than the institutions such as the World Bank and IMF founded to deal with such events. I think that this is a good template to use in stating that the current multilateral institutions are not good at delivering effectively solutions.

Although I am clearly in support of the outcome of Bretton Woods, we should also remember that not enough people there were visionary enough to accept all of the ideas of Keynes, and which were subsequently quickly adopted as catastrophe loomed, e.g. removal of the gold standard. Other than those wearing rose tinted spectacles no-one would suggest that the institutions that emerged remotely fulfil their ambitious mandates. I have already mentioned the lack of effectiveness of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is little more than a toothless talking shop today – Bosnia being a classic failure.

Christine Legrande suggests that the multilateral outcome of Bretton Woods produced ‘unprecedented economic and financial stability …. Disease eradication, conflict diminished, child mortality reduced, life expectancy increased, and hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty’.

Do we not count Korea, Vietnam, Congo, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria …….etc as conflicts? All consumed the lives of many thousands of people including Western soldiers, left chaos and destruction in their wake, and they are still very much in our minds today. When was the last time that the USA was conclusively successful in any serious military conflict? Therefore Europe and the USA may have seen peace and prosperity since Bretton Woods but how many thousands of American and European soldiers and civilians have died in the name of preserving this peace?

To suggest that Europe has been conflict free is also short-sighted. In the past 6 years Europe has been involved in an economic war. Not too many people killed with bullets and bombs, but many have become disenfranchised, lost everything, displaced, and descended into poverty. Is this not symptomatic of a conventional war? When the vision of a European Union was first put to the people the rhetoric promised peace and prosperity for all citizens. I accept that the banking crisis made a bad situation worse, but how many European politicians in France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the UK breathed a sigh of relief that they could hide their failure to create a credible EU behind the banking crisis?

Let us examine the two reference dates that she used, i.e. 1914 and 1944. She suggests that prior to 1914 the birth of the modern industrial society brought about massive dislocation between protectionist nations, and inequality between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Take away the country boundaries, essentially the impact of the digital age, and what is different today?

So where do I see the powder kegs of the 21st Century? Perhaps controversially I do not see the North-South Conflict as a major threat. An implosion within the Islamic community is more likely with primarily Sunni against Shi’a. If you think about it, most of the current conflicts involve the Islamic nations, and are driven by extreme religious division. The intervention by the West in some of these conflicts in the name of protecting the West has no logical outcome. These people have no regard for Western democratic values, or of secular tolerance.

At one end of the spectrum we have the blatant inequality of the distribution of wealth. We are experiencing 2 critical phenomena, both of which are counterproductive to a peaceful, all inclusive world. We have individuals and corporates accumulating vast wealth to the point where the resulting power exceeds that of some major nations. Albeit a few of these have taken a philanthropic stance we should note that such philanthropists are mostly from Western countries. Many of the new billionaires are from emerging or developing economies where democracy does not really mean very much, and a market society is the norm, i.e. everything has a price, even social and civic values. All we need is a charismatic megalomaniac, as depicted by the Carver character in the James Bond movie, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, to cause chaos and suffering for many throughout the world. Unfortunately Western civilisation has degraded over the past couple of decades towards a market society thus adding a significant sting to the ever increasing differential between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. For example diminish the rights of the ‘have nots’ to education, justice, political influence, and healthcare because they have no money and you have a significant pool of would-be terrorists for our megalomaniac to exploit because they have nothing else, and nothing to lose.

Then we have corporate greed. So what can the people see? During the past 6 years the people have become very aware that their corporate executives have suppressed the salaries of the workers (the value drivers) to below inflation levels whilst increasing their own already attractive remuneration by some 40% average, and which has been allowed by investors because dividends have been maintained to these investors. So the people at the top have handsomely profited whilst real income to the workers has diminished. So much for sharing the pain. In addition these executives are immune to any accountability should they fail. Have any of the avaricious people who profited from the banking crisis been prosecuted, or had their ill-gotten gains repossessed? The banks themselves are being penalised by regulators who should have been more alert to the problems in the first place, and some of these funds do go to Government coffers. But these large fines diminish the capital of the banks, and thus inhibit their capability to finance the very enterprise we need to re-energise the employment market, i.e. they inadvertently stifle recovery, increasing disenfranchised young entrepreneurs.

At a micro scale we can look at the fate of RBS under Fred Goodwin. He was a megalomaniac trying to build the biggest bank in the world. Everyone I spoke to in the City of London at the time leading up to the acquisition of ABN Amro agreed that the terms of that deal, at twice the price that anyone else was prepared to consider, was insane. Yet no-one stepped in to stop him. How much pain, and destroyed lives has RBS caused to many thousands of people. But Fred Goodwin is made for life financially; so well in fact that sticks and stones may break his bones, but he will not lose a night’s sleep over the names that he is called.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the demographic issue. We have already seen a growing view amongst the young generation of workers that their taxes should not be funding the pensions and healthcare of the graying generation. The younger generation see that they have to pay taxes to support the pensions of an ever increasing graying population, and being told that they also have to contribute a significant proportion of their disposable income to their own pension provisions as State pensions will slowly but surely phase out by the time they retire. All of this at a time when real incomes are diminishing in real purchase power terms. Rightly the graying population state that they have paid their taxes, in the form of a special National Insurance tax specifically for the right to a State pension and healthcare, throughout their working lives and thus their State pension is rightfully theirs. The problem is that successive Governments have not ring-fenced these contributions over the years, preferring to spend it in the hope that future generations with continue to fund the requirement; a little like a Ponzi scheme. Add to this the migration of young labour where they have no historic interest in the local graying population, and expect to be able to send money home to support their own aging family, and we have potential serious discourse and unrest. Bring both of the above phenomena together and we have a powder keg just looking for a fuse.

So from where can our fuse emerge? Our fuse already exists in the form of the global internet, social networking, and twitter. Christine Lagarde is right in that the Arab Spring was fuelled by the galvanising of the people through media such as Twitter and social media. But likewise these facilities can also be used to fuel discontent and confusion. Great philosophers such as Aristotle, Kent and Hume have all commented on the importance of gossip to the masses, and our lesser quality media thrives on this obsession. So the touch paper is a disenfranchised charismatic individual or group exploiting the power of gossip through Twitter and social networks. We have seen the impact of disenfranchised ‘have nots’ in riots in many cities over recent years. It is when all of these groups can be galvanised together that we need to be concerned.

Investment Banking – The Way Forward

univestInvestment Banking – The Way Forward

Having previously looked at the history of investment banking, and where they are today, what is needed in the future to ensure the credibility of these important banks.

Even today, post the 2007/08 meltdown, we find the mavericks still essentially in control of many of the investment banks, epitomised by the most recent scandal in the UK whereby corporate bankers, probably from an orchestrated script that even they did not understand, were encouraged to sell complex SWAP instruments to small corporates with devastating effect. Bonuses taken, but leaving the banks to face humiliating fines and further damage to reputation.

If it is accepted that we have defined a major, if not predominant, flaw in investment banking culture then what practices could be instituted to change this culture to a more acceptable form of banking without losing the creative skills for formulation of new and applicable products, and the liquidity environment to make such products attractive to the widest range of investors.

The Role of Regulators

The typical cry from outraged politicians across the world (who for all intent know little or nothing about these markets) is for more regulation. This is nonsense as no amount of regulation will impact a short-term culture environment where traders will take whatever risks they need to make their bonus as they will be long gone to their retreat in Barbados before the devastating  (both reputation and financial) impact of their actions are felt by the banks. The only changes to regulation that will extract any effect would be the prosecution of reckless traders who profit from the damage they do albeit I see a legal minefield differentiating between rogue trader, and irresponsible trading with plausible deniable consent of management. The legal maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea comes to mind. Furthermore the UK Financial Services Act would need to be amended to bring habeas corpus into effect for individual prosecution so that banks could limit their legal liability to the trader and thus impose some responsibility discipline into their actions without removal of the rights of the individual in Common Law. The Serious Fraud Office, who would have to seriously increase their skills, would need to be the prosecutor for UK based traders. Importantly any such change of this type of prosecution needs parity in each of the major financial centres to have any real deterrent value. Rendition of individuals to the USA when London is the heart of the financial World is not a reasonable solution.

Furthermore my experience of regulators is that they have little or no knowledge of the complexities of securities products, or the markets. Forensics and post-mortem after the event is a far cry from being able to evaluate the impact of new financing structures, e.g. super-senior debt, and realise the impact of such artificial concepts on the market, and thus prevent its introduction. It is also worthy of note that the independent rating agencies and monoline insurers also need to take responsibility for what they are prepared to acknowledge as worthy credit, and in the case of monoline insurers, their capacity to manage major defaults.

Regulators such as the FCA in London do not have remuneration structures at a level to attract the people skilled in such instruments. Why regulators appoint youngsters when there is a vast body of 50+ knowledge and invaluable experience who may desire a more relaxing environment than the daily frenzy within the banking environment to see out their days. It was the smart youngsters who were encouraged by the mavericks to engage in casino transactions, without knowledge of impact, thus bringing the system to its knees. If regulators are to regulate the markets against transaction types that will create havoc then they need a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ approach to recruitment – and reward these people properly. If this credibility existed within regulators then every new instrument proposed by investment banks should be approved for full or specific limited usage. Likewise, as a general rule, unregulated OTC markets should be seriously curtailed, if not banned, or fully regulated. Leaving a door even slightly ajar invites clever investment bankers to find a way through it.

There is no point or value in having regulators in different major financial centres who cannot exactly agree on how investment banks and products should be regulated. I believe that the decision by the SEC unilaterally allowing the US investment banks to increase their capital gearing to 40:1 was a major contributor to the financial problems through 2007/08. Not only did this encourage casino gambling by investment banks in the USA but also provided a competitive edge to US investment banks that had to be mirrored throughout the whole investment banking community to maintain a level playing field. Securities and associated derivatives are the essence of a global capital markets and, just as with Central Banks, requires one central governing body regulating capital adequacy and risk. Regulators throughout the World have to be in harmony on the essential capital and risk management of investment banks, and the products in which they can engage. This would also prevent anticompetitive meddling such as the EU Governments attempting to impose a financial transaction levy on banks throughout Europe which would clearly be more detrimental to London than anywhere else.

It might also be worth considering nomination of major financial centres in the World where every investment bank in those centres operated under identical rule sets. Indeed this idea could be expanded to contain all investment banking activities to these major financial centres and thus all investment banking would be under the same regulatory umbrella. Much of such investment banking activities occur in the recognised major financial centres today so this would not be onerous to implement.

At the beginning of the widespread use of International securities in the 1970’s every Eurobond instrument was supported by an identifiable asset, even if just a Balance Sheet. This provided a clear understanding of the risks involved with holding the Eurobond. When more complex securities such as asset-backed securitisation came into being there was still a pool of assets that could be clearly identified. With mortgage-backed securities the asset cover was usually provided by a ‘AAA’ rated monoline insurer credit wrap (without stressing the Balance Sheet of the monoline) thus the asset was the Balance Sheet of the monoline insurer backed ultimately by the underlying property assets. Today it is very difficult with many securities products to adequately identify the underlying asset in a direct way, if indeed any such asset exists. As existing securities are partially stripped and repackaged the underlying asset becomes blurred, and there is no fundamental economic benefit that can accrue from such instruments. So is it time to retreat from synthetic casino instruments of no real economic value and thus ensure that there is a clear economic reason for the issue of any securities product, including derivatives. In recent years banks have used casino instruments such as the Snowrange issues that essentially bet on stock market activity or interest rate movements to raise cheap capital. Having studied a number of these issues I am disappointed that banks need to use such nebulous mechanisms in this way when, if structured with some thought, they can provide a needed and valuable project finance collateral instrument, especially in developing economies, and which achieves the same objective for the bank, but also provides real and identifiable economic benefit. Perhaps investment banks should use their financial skills to revert to structured project finance to win back credibility. If investors are provided with a continual flow of instruments which are no more than a casino gamble then this consumes capital that could be more usefully employed in economic growth. If regulators remove casino products from investment banking then investment bankers have to apply themselves to raising capital for economic activity. This would also force mainstream banks to use depositor funds for lending purposes rather than engaging in casino gambling.


The Role of Compliance

It is very rare to meet a compliance officer within an investment bank with the knowledge and expertise to be accepted as a positive contributor to the business rather than the person to be avoided as a constraint to business because of the ‘if in doubt, say no’ where doubt can be interpreted as the lack of knowledge and understanding of the business.

Compliance officers are essentially the eyes and ears of the regulators. Therefore their knowledge needs to be thorough, and their role clearly defined. In my early days at Citicorp we had compliance in the form of an internal audit team the head of which reported only to the President of the bank, and with the absolute authority, without the consent of the President, to close down any operation or entity that was considered non-compliant. Internal audit consisted of a small team of inspectors that could go to any operation anywhere in the World without notice. Within each corporate entity there would be representation proportionate to the size of the entity and who reported only to the head of internal audit. They could summon the inspectors if they felt that something was wrong, and had not been corrected to their satisfaction. Believe me that this internal audit team put more fear into every aspect of the business than any compliance team I have encountered post-big bang. Bob Diamond suggested that Barclays had some 200 compliance officers yet he was still allowed to operate as he pleased. Compliance similar to the internal audit team I experienced at Citicorp but where they are paid by the bank, but ultimately report to a senior regulator, should impose much needed discipline into investment banks, especially at a senior level. However, such compliance officers need to be well trained, and worthy of the power that they wield.

One aspect of compliance which I consider unwieldly is the amount of written documentation involved in this process, much of it in a legal jargon. Is it reasonable to expect our compliance officers to be trained lawyers, or is it more important that they understand the business, the products, and the markets? The more cumbersome the role of compliance, the less likely that it will be effective. Therefore I would suggest that the whole concept of regulation be re-visited to determine the type of regulatory structure that can be reasonably and effectively implemented.

Much of who can engage in what activities can be controlled by rule tables within competent computer systems. If new products are pre-vetted by Regulators then, again, computer systems can control what transactions are admissible, and in what size, volume, etc. This was all possible in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the advent of AI. Technology has moved on to a more mobile capability, but the challenges presented by allowing high value transactions to be executed using such technology do require extensive risk/reward assessment where convenience is the very last consideration. I have experienced the attempts by traders to circumvent rules built into systems. For example we had a fixed income trader who wanted to step out of their allowed range of traded instruments to engage in gilt futures. A trader authorised in this product was on leave, but somehow had allowed his login details to become known to the fixed income trader who used this information to access the gilt futures markets. Unfortunately for him the computer systems knew that the gilt trader was out of office so an alert was posted to the trading floor manager, the head of settlements, the compliance officer, and the director of operations (me). Thus this potentially very expensive transgression could be swiftly dealt with.

This level of control is relatively simple when trading is contained to a trading room but, now I understand that there are traders who can use their mobile phones to trade from anywhere, and I  am also aware of trading stations at the homes of traders. This poses enormous problems for compliance. I would propose that unless every aspect of any transaction can be properly and fully recorded, including any and all voice communication, then trading should be contained to a specific trading room. Remote trading stations pose significant risks, not least from hackers. If hackers can infiltrate the most sophisticated (and budgetless) systems in the intelligence community then this is a risk too far. Furthermore remote trading opens the door to orchestrated trading, whether market manipulation or book distortion. If one analyses this problem laterally there is no excuse for remote trading out of hours as processes to overcome the global nature of trading were introduced in the 1980’s to roll active positions to a trader in the next time zone with instructions on how to react in the event of certain market conditions. If these market conditions do not arise then the position will revert untouched to the originating trader at the opening of the next business day.

Trading practices today centre around the ‘convenience’ to the trader, and the argument won on the basis of ‘profit’. A number of very expensive and publicised trader problems have occurred as a result of such practices, and I would wager from my own experience that many more have gone unreported. It is time to change the argument to one which states that if any trading practice cannot meet robust compliance requirements then such practices should not be allowed.

A Change in Culture

Although the regulatory and compliance structures outlined above would provide a more mature and robust environment for investment banking activities, the changes required to the current risk taking attitude of traders will not occur without a radical change in the way that investment banks are managed. Soccer players are a reasonable analogy to traders because their career is short-term, as is their perspective. I think it is arguably universally accepted that Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful and respected soccer manager in the World. We know him as a strong character who can build and mould successful soccer teams using a well-honed balance of discipline and encouragement of flair with his players. The players know that Alex is the boss, and know that his words are essentially law. He instils a belonging in his players to Manchester United Football Club, the most renowned soccer club in the World, and commands loyalty and respect from his players and supporters alike. If any player thinks themselves bigger than the club, e.g. Beckham and Ronaldo, no matter how good a player, they are sold on as they have clearly forgotten from where their fortunes derive. Players such as Scholes and Giggs have been loyal to the club for the whole of their professional football career even though they were both World-class players who would be welcome at any other soccer club in the World. Players such as Cantona, who had such a bad reputation and not wanted by any club, was given an opportunity to redeem himself by Alex, and proved to be a great and loyal asset to the club for the remainder of his playing career. In a slightly different light we see that every Formula 1 driver expresses a desire to drive for Ferrari at some point in their career regardless of how Ferrari is performing. And note that these people vocally praise the support teams that make their success possible. These are success stories in an environment of high energy, high risk, short career span people who want to belong and are prepared to openly express their commitment and loyalty. How could investment banks learn and profit from a culture change that encourages long-term loyalty in a team structure that strives for success as a collective rather than individual reward.

Managing any self-respecting professional investment banker, whether deal origination/execution, support operations, or systems is a very special skill. These are not conventional people. They live on the edge of the box or totally outside of the box, and not willing to comply with boring rules of convention. This is the essential characteristic of their ability to be creative and productive in such an energetic environment where things happen in the moment with no dwell time to consider. They must have confidence and conviction supported with knowledge. If they have been through higher education, and succumbed to conventional wisdom during the process, they are unlikely to survive no matter how bright they are. Like soccer players they have individual skills and flair which needs to be positively moulded into a successful team. Teams of like-minded people create a sense of belonging and loyalty as a natural progression of working together. The management of such people needs to provide a suitable working environment which contains the necessary constraints regarding risk and excess without trying to apply any conventional management techniques that will stifle performance. Like the soccer players they are contained within the boundaries of the playing pitch, where they are encouraged to combine their individual talents to win the game within the constraints of the rules of the game. In our analogy to Alex Ferguson all team members know that the manager has a formidable knowledge of the game.

Asking a trading manager to operate with constraint is counterproductive as it is easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission. Equally you would not expect such a trading manager to determine credit or risk policy as this would invariably lean toward excess. The role of the trading manager is to maximise return on capital employed within pre-determined credit and risk boundaries and thus looks out into the market to seek opportunity. The trading manager, director, or whatever you wish to call him plays the role of the team captain in our soccer analogy ensuring that the play strategy is right, and that every player is contributing at peak performance.

Therefore a counterbalance is needed to ensure that rules and boundaries are independently derived, and then observed at all times in order to protect the Balance Sheet of the bank from inappropriate exposure, i.e. looking inwards. In conventional businesses such activities can be dealt with over days or even weeks, but in a trading environment with a turnover of some USD billions per day such attention can be minute by minute. Whereas a Credit Committee can provide overall guidelines on limits and exposure, the reality of the trading environment requires credit and risk limits such as new counterparties, trading in hybrid securities to fulfil a client requirement, etc. to be determined swiftly, and certainly within a trading day. Thus a combination of compliance, settlements, and funding act as the referee during the trading day (the game).

Likewise traders should not be allowed to determine their own strategies without reference and approval of a detached COO – the Alex Ferguson role. Traders who cannot properly articulate their proposed activities in a coherent manner should be refused the right of execution.

On the subject of behaviour it can readily be demonstrated why a trading director is generally not the right person to manage the discipline of traders – not least because the director of trading is one of them – they are the pack, and the trading director the pack leader. The trading director considers the loss of a good trader before the serious nature of his behaviour, and the behavioural impact on the other traders by forgiving unacceptable behaviour. I am aware of forgiveness of extremes of behaviour throughout the investment banking sector, but certainly not exclusively to it.

If we look at banks that have either failed (Barings, Lehmans), or banks that have suffered large losses under the heading of ‘rogue traders’ (SocGen, UBS), we will find a common denominator – the front-office was all powerful, and the back-office were considered irrelevant people with no voice. I know that this attitude to back-office exists in many investment banks today, yet a good operations support team is equally as valuable as the front-office in securing, realising and protecting revenues. If allowed to properly engage they provide valuable input to traders and are valuable eyes and ears of the COO who controls all of these activities. The COO provides the boundaries of the playing field, the rules of the game, and the moulding of all of the players into a team, including the Director of Trading whose natural self-preservation and ego will provide some initial hurdles. Having seen this in action turnover of staff diminished to an extraordinarily low level, and the ability to cross-cover in times of volatility was exceptional.

The Bonus Culture

How many investment banks still have the perverse attitude that traders should receive vast bonuses whilst the support function that at the very least minimises the cost to do business receive only a nominal percentage of salary. This attitude is so wrong in every respect and is an inherent facet of the corrupt culture within the investment banking sector where the top people take care of themselves, and spread a few crumbs for those that actually made their profits possible. A good support operation controls the downside risks thus more of the income is translated into profit.

Can we change the existing bonus culture in a way that it will be adopted throughout the investment banking sector, help to avoid reckless transactions, and encourage more term loyalty of investment bankers. I have listened to a number of options in this direction, especially from grandstanding politicians and media reporters. However none have grasped the nature of bonuses in the investment banking sector so their suggestions, whilst sounding good to their audience, will be rejected out of hand by the bankers.

When sales people of any product or service complete a transaction they are generally entitled to a commission within a short time frame as part of their remuneration package. This commission is their incentive to perform and is the general nature of the sales process throughout the World. Some transactions involve a term timeline to completion so commissions are scheduled according to the value received at various points along the timeline. Some sales involve a sole sale person, others require a team approach and thus a commission pool is created and the value of this pool distributed to each team member at periodic interval tied to the value received by the company. Such commissions are referred to as bonuses in the investment banks, but otherwise share all of the above characteristics of commissions. I have already discussed the origin of bonuses in a previous blog. So how can the bonus system be modified to help to properly reflect performance, as well as to encourage loyalty. It is worth noting that an investment bank can have a daily turnover equivalent to that of a major corporation over a whole year, so understanding scale is important.

Deferred bonus for completed transactions is neither popular nor equitable. The bank has the value of the transactions in its profits, and thus the bonuses should be paid. It is also counterproductive as it causes discontent, and a headhunter can readily negotiate a payment of such deferred bonus as an inducement for a good trader to move. Alternatively, for a term transaction, a bonus should not be paid until the bank has accrued real value less any required contingency for future risk until such time as the transaction completes, and is without further potential liability. This is an equitable approach regardless of sole trader or team, and the latter case will probably have the greatest impact on bonus culture.

My experience suggests that the more important issue to be addressed by investment bankers is whether or not it is more appropriate to engage in pool bonus structures to encourage team performance, and thus loyalty. I am in favour of pool systems for a number of important reasons. Firstly and foremost it does encourage team performance which significant reduces the possibility of rogue activities, and provides a natural cover for sickness and holidays. Other benefits include natural selection in that if any member of a team is not performing this becomes immediately apparent making the exit of the non-performer self-evident.

As for quantum, remember our soccer players, Formula 1 racing drivers, and their short career span. I have experienced many traders freeze or completely fold at their desks over the years. These people will never trade again, and probably not work again so I do not resent high bonus payments as it might well be their last. The only time I have exception is when these traders are so greedy that they always look for ways to trade outside of the acceptable range of activity, and will not even consider contribution to a pool for the people who support them, and without whom they would not make any bonus.


From my experience the counterbalance resource that represents our Alex Ferguson role is an executive COO with the following characteristics:

  • Highly experienced in all aspects of investment banking – but not from a deal origination background
  • Has control of all aspects of the operational business base including risk, exposure, compliance, settlements, funding, and systems including origination/execution staff discipline, but excluding business daily strategy within approved guidelines.
  • If there is an investment bank CEO then this COO should have equal status and equal responsibility to the Board. If there is a parent company then both the CEO and COO should have equal representation on this Board.
  • This COO should be the main contact of the investment bank with regulators such as the Bank of England.
  • This COO should not be obliged to accept market sensitive information without the opportunity to check such information with the source.

This resource will provide the counterbalance to the ‘Bob Diamond’s’ of this World and preserve a more stable environment without loss of business opportunity, and without loss of credibility. Under such a structure rogue traders would be confined to history as there would be no means of hiding such activity, and any activities outside of risk and credit lines (which can occur during a trading day) would be monitored in real time and corrected within that trading day.

There is no doubt that the ‘Bob Diamond’s’ of investment banking are valuable resources as deal makers but if the bank is to achieve stability and credibility such people need a tight rein to curb their natural tendencies to push the boundaries beyond reasonable limits of risk and exposure in the name of profit. However, giving such people executive power is tantamount to giving a nuclear warhead to a fanatic. The Peter Principle needs to be applied with rigour, regardless of the demands/charm for executive status ‘as a requirement to perform’. They can assume the title of ‘director’ for market purposes, but without executive portfolio.

I have no doubt that, assuming that such existing people can be persuaded back to their deal making tasks, there will be continual clashes of personality and will to regain their executive control as their deal making ego will see robust management as a constraint to profit generation. But I have already referred to the specialist management skills needed within an investment banking environment, and shareholders must support this position instead of listening to the charm of fool’s gold from reckless risks. Assuming that you can walk into a casino, put all your money on ‘00’ at the roulette table expecting to win, invariable ends in tears.

The outcry about bonus payments need to be put into perspective, albeit they need to be rationalised as previously described to encourage loyalty and fair distribution.

Robust management supported by a regulatory system which has professional competence and provides pro-active oversight with universally accepted rules of engagement throughout the World will provide the framework for investment banks to perform their specialist and fundamental role in global economic recovery, and its continued growth. This does not mean more regulation by grandstanding politicians (just look at the mess they are creating in the Eurozone debacle). It requires a unification of existing regulation, and then implementation with the required skills. Investment banking is a global business, and needs a uniform global platform of regulation.

One important lesson of the past 20 years is that the door was open to let the mavericks take control, and they were treated as gods. They have taken their rich bonuses and so can live in luxury whilst everyone else has to burden the cost and pain of their activities. Only after a major reorganisation of investment banking, essentially from within, can we revert back to the banker’s creed ‘My Word is My Bond’ with any sincerity.

Where are the banks today?

univestWhere are the banks today?

Having explained the history associated with where the banks are today, I would now like to examine the current situation.

Ironically the banks are essentially in the same situation as they were in 1986/87. Then they had spent enormous excesses preparing themselves for the new era of investment and corporate banking, they needed more capital to expand into new business opportunities, and remuneration packages reflected the desire to attract the most prolific profit generators. Today we have the enormous losses of the banking collapse in 2008/2009, enormous sums paid to regulators in the form of fines, large claims for damages including large legal bills, demands for more capital adequacy, and remuneration packages still need to attract profit generators.

There are essentially two ways to increase capital: a) asking investors for more investment, or b) translating profits into capital. The latter is by far the easiest with no impact on existing investment returns. The former puts pressure on profit generation to maintain a good dividend yield, which then places pressures on costs to support the remuneration required by the profit generators.

But are some of these profit generators really worth the cost? How many of these profit generators produced large profits through excessive risk or even market manipulation, have been paid their bonuses and moved on, leaving the bank with credibility problems and fines exceeding the benefit of the profit generator.

Let us look at an extreme example. Interest rate swaps are a sophisticated instrument that should only be sold to qualified professionals. Yet some profit generator convinced someone in the banks that these instruments should be sold to small corporates (SME’s) that would have difficulties even qualifying for a straight-forward interest swap under normal corporate banking rules. The structure of interest rate swaps are so complex that there should be more pages of cautionary notes attached than explanation of the mechanism of the instrument. And the banks would know that base interest rates are not going anywhere fast. So do we assume any interest rate movement is geared towards the bank’s borrowing cost? If so then manipulation of these rates by the banks must also be an issue.

Last year I designed a Documentary Credit solution for a tri-party tolling deal (a raw material supplier provides materials of a given quality to a producer of goods with a third party guarantee buyer of the finished goods thus guaranteeing payment to the raw material producer, i.e. guaranteed cash flow) over three countries. The safest mechanism was a conditional tri-party letter of credit which is only a small step removed from a conventional letter of credit. Although the banker to the third party buyer was completely satisfied with the structure they were not convinced that the financial director of the third party buyer fully understood the structure, and thus would not engage. An interest rate swap is streets ahead in complexity to such an instrument, and I would be very surprised if any of the financial directors of these SME’s remotely understood what they were being sold. Even worse I would doubt that the corporate banker selling this product knew any more about these instruments than the script provided by the investment bank. As swaps are purpose designed for a specific need on a Balance Sheet, who was looking at the SME to define their need, and to ensure their understanding of what was being offered?

I think it is clear that the banks are totally focussed on income generation from wherever it thinks it can be obtained. In too many cases the mavericks are still in control. So how can they generate these much needed profits?

Firstly, and foremost, they cut operating costs. Within investment banks this is most certainly a false economy, but it suits the mavericks. A professional operations director, properly respected by the Board, is the first line of defence to protect the bank from abuse. If we look at the problems over recent years in the likes of UBS, BarCap, SocGen, Deutschebank, JP Morgan Chase, et al, none of these problems could have occurred had a solid operations base been in situ. When I ran operations for various banks there was no possibility that a trading director could override any decisions by me on credit, risk, trading volumes, trade procedure, compliance, discipline, funding, hedging, and systems. My head of settlements, who knew more about the markets than any trader, attended the morning strategy meetings with the traders. If he said that trading could not occur in certain instruments, or specific securities issues, or ticket sizes, this was not a request but an instruction. Trading was not allowed over mobile phones. No dealer could get into the dealing room before 7:30am unless by specific authorisation, and only with a settlement clerk present. Our systems had artificial intelligence monitors on all traders, positions, risk, and credit in real time, monitored by me, head of settlements, and financial controller. Traders did not have autonomous computer systems, yet we always had the most sophisticated trading systems on the street. Our counterparties knew that if they did not confirm a trade with our settlement department during the same trading day then we had the right to void it, so dealers could not hide deals. All funding, own book hedging, and bond borrowing was undertaken by settlements on a book basis to ensure that we were properly covered at minimum cost.

Now the mavericks having taken control of, or suppressed, the operations base, what I see today horrifies me in that there is little or no real control over what many business generation platforms are doing in the name of the bank. They are treated like gods, or at least divas, and anyone who speaks out against what they are doing is destined for unemployment. The senior management have a fixation that if they do not comply with the absurd requests of these people that they will take their ‘skills’ elsewhere (and thus risk their own personal rewards). However, put a senior operations person in place in every bank, and who knows what they are about, make them more powerful than the trading director, and the mavericks have nowhere else to go. Alternatively if they are likely to leave you with a horrible mess to clean up after they depart do you want them in any event?

Having entered investment banking in the mid-1970’s with Citicorp, now CitiGroup, my first job was to find a way of providing Walter Wriston, the Global CEO, with global real-time positions of the bank in all markets. This is before the internet – indeed we created the first global corporate intranet in 1978 to achieve this requirement. With today’s technology this task is not only simple, but should be fundamental if any control is to be placed on banking activities.

What about the banks engaged in corporate business? Again horrific. Many so-called corporate bankers that I have encountered in recent years are no more than information gathers for some faceless people hidden from view in dark places. These faceless people are the arbiters of all activity with corporate clients, yet have never met any of them. Gone are the days when a corporate banker, certainly in the SME arena, can read financials better than the financial director of the company, and actively advise on how the financial position can be improved prior to bank lending. Now it is more akin to lending against security without any consideration as to the quality of the lending instrument – just the level of income that can be achieved. Surely it is in the bank’s interest to have quality people guiding their corporate clients and thus protecting their investment, not merely taking security and destroying people’s lives.

Just as an illustration of how dire the training within banks really is, I went into a large branch of Barclays bank in Holburn in London where their principal client base is likely to be corporate clients. I wanted to send a SWIFT payment in USD. I was told, by their resident corporate banker, that Barclays Bank do not send SWIFT payments. This is a sad reflection on where banking is today, and it needs to change quickly. My next blog will look at the way forward.

What has happened to our banks?

univestWhat has happened to our banks?

We have yet another scandal at the top of a bank, and another relating to the behaviour of RBS to add to a long list of problems with banks and bankers. As banks are run by people is the problem with bankers who are not qualified to run a bank, or is the problem more broadly one of abstract ideology, greed, and the celebrity culture? To what extent are the media fuelling this problem?

Some months ago I was asked by the head of a UK business school whether or not Islamic Banks had a role to play in restoring credibility to the investment banking sector. After some thought about this question, which I considered as comparing mutually exclusive doctrines, I found myself asking if the definition of an investment bank, and indeed banks in general had become so obscure that no-one really understands them any longer.

Then we have the scandals with the people at the heads of banks. Are these people imposed bankers out of nepotism, very convincing mavericks, or real Bankers? If not real Bankers is their nepotism born out of allegiance and/or celebrity status?

Over the coming days I will express my thoughts from many years of experience about the current events in the banking sector, and the unlawful abuse of their clients by both investment and corporate bankers. The stories that I have heard regarding RBS, if true, are horrific abuse of power, especially as much of it will prove unlawful. I have listened to stories that can only be absolute abuse of banking code, especially in the property sector. It is sad that many finance directors and lawyers are not aware that, other than in extreme situations, the ‘call clause’ in a financing agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on in law. I personally fought off, in 1992, an attempt to have this call clause used by a bank extending a facility to a property company and then having a change in strategy within the bank thus calling all of their property loans. Major plc’s were borrowers, but complied with the call. The property company I represented was the only property loan on their books for 2 years thereafter having realised how much it was going to cost them for me to move this financing elsewhere. The chairman of this bank actually stated to me that he was thankful that not many people had my knowledge of banking law.

So what are investment banks and why do we need them? During the mid-1980’s they evolved out of the former Merchant Banks which provided the liquidity for global trade, and structured debt solutions for major projects throughout the world. However, capital movement around the world was somewhat limited thus frustrating economic growth through lack of available capital. Deregulation of the capital markets of the world in the mid-1980’s enabled rich sources of new capital, but it required very special and creative structured finance skills to satisfy the investment terms of these new investors with the financing needs of projects. For example we saw the global expansion of international securities, the design of structured securities products aimed at providing finance more aligned with the specific needs of a project, and the attraction of major global institutions and private investors to purchase such securities thus providing liquidity to the system that banks alone could not provide. It was instilled into me in those early days that our role was to match financing need with capital availability providing the expertise to both optimally structure the risk in the funding requirement, and to demonstrate our integrity to investors that would lead to the trust to provide the funding. Investment banks do not lend money (their income essentially comes from origination fees and trading profits), but they make it possible for investors to provide capital to funding requirements, (thus the Capital Markets) and facilitate the liquidity of capital investment to optimise the flows of investment capital.

When I first entered the upper echelons of investment banking in the late 1970’s the following parameters were engrained into me:

  • Investment banking is a people business
  • Investment banks do not get involved in politics, religion, or nationality
  • Investment Bankers must leave any political and religious doctrine at home
  • Investment Bankers should not display any nationality or cultural preferences
  • Senior Investment Bankers need to understand the liability side of the Balance Sheet
  • Integrity is paramount, and is a given

The very best bankers shunned the spotlight, and would not consider themselves to be of celebrity status.

Having been part of the evolution of the then embryonic International Securities market in the mid-1970’s (loans syndication was still the major mechanism for major project financing) my work since then has involved the global expansion of international securities, the design of structured securities products aimed at providing finance more aligned with the specific needs of a project, and the attraction of major global institutions and private investors to purchase such securities thus providing liquidity to the system that banks alone could not provide.

For some years this new market worked well especially in the arena of infrastructure development which was a necessary part of global economic development. New products emerged such as asset-backed securitisation making it possible to provide ever increasing funds to satisfy mortgage demand, credit card finance, lease finance et al. However, just as the Manhattan Project produced a new science of nuclear fission which could significantly benefit the world in the development of electronics, energy production, medical treatments, etc., in the wrong hands such innovation would have devastating results.

If we can accept that history has many examples of great inventiveness being used with moral integrity to the greater good of many, and by the few intent only upon greed, avarice and power, can we draw upon these flaws in human nature to describe the culture within investment banks today.

My own view is that the degradation of moral integrity within investment banks started directly after the ‘Big Bang’ in 1986. Too many banks had paid far too much to be part of their somewhat blurred vision of post-deregulation of the financial markets and thus needed an aggressive income generation policy to recoup their costs to save face with their shareholders. At that time I wondered if many institutions had lost sight of the fact that little new capital would be available, just a redistribution of existing availability providing an improved mobility of existing capital, and thus more liquidity.

In the run up to Big Bang in 1986 many uncomfortable marriages of convenience occurred in the form of major banks buying stockbrokers and stockjobbers to include equities within the investment banking environment. The culture gaps experienced created some challenging problems. Whereas technology issues were resolved during those early weeks after ‘Big Bang’ in 1986, the prima donna positioning of the various traders continued long afterwards. This change in attitude by trading staff started a trend across the community that became endemic using ‘profit’ as their argument.

What I noted at that time was that far too many Board members of banks had little idea what was happening in these operations, and relied upon the head of trading departments to manage the bank’s position. Traders saw this as an opportunity to do as they pleased – primarily for their own benefit. I was asked to explain to the heads of the banks in London comprising the Acceptance House Committee why Euroclear and CEDEL were not prepared to provide the settlement credit lines being demanded by their trading managers. This meeting concerned me in that it was clear just how out of touch these people were with this new world of investment banking.

SWAPs became trading instruments leading to synthetics, swap options, and the now notorious Credit Default Swaps. The term nature of these instruments meant that they could span years but traders tended to ensure that they were booked to take all of the presumed profits of a term transaction in the first year to maximise bonus and to hell with the possibility that over time this transaction would have costs on an annual basis, and could completely unravel if rates moved outside of the transaction limits (as per the experience of ill-advised small corporates buying interest rate swaps). Experienced support professionals who understood the degrading impact of these events were patronised, completely ignored, and, if troublesome, dispensed with. Trading managers and their allies surrounded themselves with bright young people who did not have the experience to understand the consequences of what they were asked to do. The rot was setting in. As a Board member of CEDEL at that time I met with peers from other banks so I knew of others who felt the same way. By the end of the 1990’s the mavericks controlled the investment banks, profits from ever more risk taking soared, bonus culture was out of control, the regulators were asleep; and the shareholders loved it.

There is one other facet to this cultural issue that is important before looking at ways to address this problem for the future. There are far too many examples where the investment banking trader/deal maker has evolved into a main Board Director, or even worse the CEO, but without the necessary transition in attitude or skills, especially the prudent management of risk. Would anyone expect a car salesman to become CEO of the car manufacturer? This would be rare indeed as a good salesman is very focused on the next sale/commission, not the long-term interests of the company. Thus when a trader emanates to the Boardroom the checks and balances of reasoned debate tend to be overtaken by the aggressive will of the trader who imposes unilateral control of all investment banking activities over his fellow Directors, and encourages the reckless use of depositor funds in the name of profit. A recent article in the Financial Times on the reflections of Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays Bank, regarding Bob Diamond and his imposing presence on the Barclays Board provides a good example of this. Taylor indicates that Diamond wanted to increase exposure to Russia by 5-fold. The Credit Committee only accepted half of this increase. However Taylor claims that Diamond ignored the Credit Committee ruling, increased the exposure, and within months Russia had defaulted with huge losses to Barclays. Apparently Diamond used plausible deniability, fired the traders (under his control) and charmed the Board by swearing his eternal allegiance to Barclays. In any other environment Diamond would have been fired for blatant breach of the Credit Committee policy irrespective of profit or loss, but he wooed the Board into thinking he was indispensable to the fortunes of BarCap. Taylor regrets the decision not to fire Diamond, but he is not alone in getting wooed by the prospects of vast profits, a blurred understanding of the risks, and the disregard of risk lines set by Credit Committees best placed to take a more circumspect view. I would not like to count the number of times I have encountered this situation.

By the end of 2006 skilled observers knew that the credit markets were out of control, but no-one was listening. The CDS and CDO money machine had far exhausted the capability of the monoline insurers, whose Balance Sheets had been stacked with more dubious assets in order to meet the demand of their fee generation activities, and the ever increasing production of irresponsible concepts such as ‘super-senior debt’ were all part of the profit frenzy of unregulated activity. Chuck Prince, the then CEO of Citigroup was recorded as saying to the Financial Times ‘As long as the music is still playing, we are still dancing – and the music is still playing’. In her book ‘Fool’s Gold’, Gillian Tett describes how, during this period, Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan Chase had refused to participate in the frenzy, but was being pressured by greedy investors to match the profit of other banks engaged in these activities. What a fall from grace he has suffered over recent months.

Even today, post the 2007/08 meltdown, we find the mavericks still essentially in control epitomised by the most recent scandal in the UK whereby corporate bankers, probably from an orchestrated script that even they did not understand, were encouraged to sell complex SWAP instruments to small corporates with devastating effect. Bonuses taken, but leaving the banks to face humiliating fines and further damage to reputation.

If it is accepted that the above defines a major, if not predominant, flaw in investment banking culture then what practices could be instituted to change this culture to a more acceptable form of banking without losing the creative skills for formulation of new and applicable products, and the liquidity environment to make such products attractive to the widest range of investors.

The typical cry from outraged politicians across the world (who for all intent know little or nothing about these markets) is for more regulation. This is nonsense as no amount of regulation will impact a short-term culture environment where traders will take whatever risks they need to make their bonus as they will be long gone to their retreat in Barbados before the devastating  (both reputation and financial) impact of their actions are felt by the banks. The only changes to regulation that will extract any effect would be the prosecution of reckless traders who profit from the damage they do albeit I see a legal minefield differentiating between rogue trader, and irresponsible trading with plausible deniable consent of management. The legal maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea comes to mind. Furthermore the UK Financial Services Act would need to be amended to bring habeas corpus into effect for individual prosecution so that banks could limit their legal liability to the trader and thus impose some responsibility discipline into their actions without removal of the rights of the individual in Common Law. The Serious Fraud Office would need to be the prosecutor for UK based traders. Importantly any such change of this type of prosecution needs parity in each of the major financial centres to have any real deterrent value. Rendition of individuals to the USA when London is the heart of the financial World is not a reasonable solution.

Furthermore my experience of regulators is that they have little or no knowledge of the complexities of securities products, or the markets. Forensics and post-mortem after the event is a far cry from being able to evaluate the impact of new financing structures, e.g. super-senior debt, and realise the impact of such artificial concepts on the market, and thus prevent its introduction. It is also worthy of note that the independent rating agencies and monoline insurers also need to take responsibility for what they are prepared to acknowledge as worthy credit, and in the case of monoline insurers, their capacity to manage major defaults.

Asking a trading manager to operate with constraint is counterproductive as it is easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission. Equally you would not expect such a trading manager to determine credit or risk policy as this would invariably lean toward excess. The role of the trading manager is to maximise return on capital employed within pre-determined credit and risk boundaries and thus looks out into the market to seek opportunity. The trading manager, director, or whatever you wish to call him plays the role of the trading team captain ensuring that the play strategy is right, and that every player is contributing at peak performance.

Therefore a counterbalance is needed to ensure that rules and boundaries are independently derived, and then observed at all times in order to protect the Balance Sheet of the bank from inappropriate exposure, i.e. looking inwards. In conventional businesses such activities can be dealt with over days or even weeks, but in a trading environment with a turnover of some USD billions per day such attention can be minute by minute. Whereas a Credit Committee can provide overall guidelines on limits and exposure, the reality of the trading environment requires credit and risk limits such as new counterparties, trading in hybrid securities to fulfil a client requirement, etc. to be determined swiftly, and certainly within a trading day. Thus a combination of compliance, settlements, and funding act as the referee during the trading day.

One important lesson of the past 20 years is that the door was open to let the mavericks take control, and they were treated as gods. They have taken their rich bonuses and so can live in luxury whilst everyone else has to burden the cost and pain of their activities. Only after a major reorganisation of investment banking, essentially from within, can we revert back to the banker’s creed ‘My Word is My Bond’ with any sincerity and integrity..

Do the political problems in the USA over recent weeks indicate that democracy in the USA is flawed, and now, with self-sufficiency in energy, can they be trusted with the obligations of a global reserve currency?


Do the political problems in the USA over recent weeks indicate that democracy in the USA is flawed, and now, with self-sufficiency in energy, can they be trusted with the obligations of a global reserve currency?

The brinkmanship demonstrated over recent weeks between the Executive, House of Representatives and the Senate reveals a total disregard for how a few ultra-right wing politicians can cause great concern in the international markets. I argued in my blog, EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On – A New Government, that having the upper and lower houses in a democratic system both elected, especially at different times in the economic and political cycle, can result in stagnation of the governmental process.  This has to be a flaw in the democratic system, especially when just a few people can hold the World economy to ransom. The USA has shown time and time again that, in any global issue, their own interests are most certainly the top priority. Albeit that, if my calculations are correct, this stand-off stagnation has occurred 18 times during the past 30 years does this fact make the global uncertainty created any more palatable? As USA debt reaches levels that are unassailable in terms of any hope of repayment is it time to seriously look at this problem?

The debate that I think is needed is related to the introspective nature of the USA, as provider of the global reserve currency. Only some 15% of USA citizens have passports, very little is taught in their schools regarding the World at large, they are taught that America is the best place in the World, they are the biggest and the best at everything (they have a World Series in a sport that is only played in the USA), and very few can indicate on a map of the World where major countries are located, let alone cities. Indeed I took my teenage daughter to the USA some years ago where she was told that a nominal relief in Boston was the largest relief in the World, and when we walked past the CBS building in New York there was a screen proclaiming ‘America, the oldest surviving democracy in the World’. Is such a culture to be trusted with the broader obligations of the holder of the global reserve currency?

Up until recently one of the fears within the political circles of the USA was their increasing dependence of the greater World for strategic resources such as oil & gas. This did provide a more tempered approach to how they dealt with international issues. However they have now become energy self-sufficient so will this change attitude to international issues as they recede into their natural state of introspection?

The other side of the debate is what is the alternative? Forget the Euro or Renminbi replacing the USD as the global reserve currency as neither is remotely qualified to assume this role. However it was not so long ago that the USD, and thus the World economy, was linked to the Gold Standard, and this was removed overnight; driven by the UK. Can we devise an alternative that can both commands the level of confidence required by the World markets to be acceptable, and disconnected from the introspective political wrangling that artificially impacts it credibility, and thus stability.

I am reminded of structures in the past such as a basket of currencies, e.g. Special Drawing Rights (SDR’s) but these can be unduly influenced by stronger participants, albeit more dampened than the impact of the USD as a sole reserve currency.

My thoughts are that there is a lateral solution out there, and long overdue. I also suggest that recent events make a solution to this problem ever more urgent as I do not see the USA reforming its political system to prevent the stagnation we have seen over recent weeks.

What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical


What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical

The term ‘Facilities Manager’ is a fairly recent addition to the corporate framework, but what is this role, why has it emerged, and what part and at what level does it serve businesses today. Having recently read a number of papers attempting to make the case for the definition and role of a Facilities Manager the only common denominator is that there is little agreement as to definition, or scope of this role. Having overseen and fulfilled this function throughout the World for a number of years under my role as Director of Global Operations for various high profile International banks I have given some thought as to what this role is about, and where it fits into the typical corporate hierarchy.

What attracts me to this subject as someone who has no vested interest in the success or failure of this new (or rebranded?) role is:

  • Why has FM attracted so much attention in academia?
  • What does this role bring to the corporate table?
  • Does the mass corporate marketplace embrace this new role?
  • Why is this role at least 20 years behind the curve of mass global corporate expansion?
  • Is there an accepted definition and relevance of FM?
  • Can FM activists find a legitimate home for this function?

In my role as Director of Global Operations I have encountered a wide variety of problems in pursuit of providing the right environment for bank operating requirements. I will summarise a few examples of some extreme cases, but all of which required time and effort with a broad skill base to resolve.

In Australia, whilst integrating the acquisition of a national bank, I found myself negotiating with a high rank military General in the Ministry of Defence for the installation of high-speed data lines to a satellite up-link to connect into our global networks. Overcoming the paranoia of the potential to export details of Australian citizens outside of their borders (we only wanted to transmit aggregated position information) was a real diplomatic and time consuming experience.

In the Middle-East I was mandated to move our office in Tehran (Iran) to a new office in Manama (Bahrain) as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to business. For anyone who has worked in the Middle-East a foreign entity trying to establish a banking business can expect a lengthy, bureaucratic process of licences and permissions which can take months of patient negotiation. The expectation on me was to have a new banking entity operationally in place, including the transfer of human resources from Tehran, in six weeks. This required a variety of skills at all levels, and I even witnessed moments of total comedy watching a procession of labourers carrying the office furniture precariously balanced above their heads through the busy streets of Manama as the only means to get it delivered on time for us to open for business.

In New York I encountered intransigent Union officials insisting on disrupting the installation of dedicated voice and data lines between our midtown Park Avenue office and our new downtown Water Street office as part of their dispute with Westinghouse, the telephone line operator. This disruption looked (and was) a lengthy affair which would seriously disrupt our business. We solved it by installing a point-to-point laser highway from the top of each building.

The common denominator in all of these cases was an intimate knowledge of the business requirement, and the knowledge and skills to surmount any potential interference with the business need.

In each office location it was common to have a person/department labelled ‘Premises’ under the Operations umbrella, and who provided local knowledge at a tactical level, an operations function in keeping the working environment in good order, and managing the implementation of any required changes in the physical working environment. At no time was this role an independent function within the corporate framework.

Fortunately in my time we were not hampered by over-regulation such as health and safety, environmental (although we took this seriously), and the primary new problem of today – security, both physical and data. Therefore there is probably an argument that a more dedicated support role is required to ensure that such matters do receive the required attention without impeding the essential role of an Operations Director, i.e. support of the income generating functions of the business. However is this just another support function under the Operations Director, a rebranding of an existing role, or a new role in its own right?

Perhaps a comparator of an existing corporate support service which can exist within the Director of Operations role, exclusive of this role, or partially exclusive – the dependency being the type of business – would be useful to construct a template for a Facilities Manager. The obvious such template is the finance function.

The finance function within any business consists of two parts. The role of the Finance Director is primarily to manage the Liabilities side of the Balance Sheet, i.e. the funding of the business. This is very much a strategic role and is fundamental to the management of the cost to do business. Then we have the Chief Accountant/Financial Controller et al, whatever term is used, and manages the Asset side of the Balance Sheet, primarily cash flow management. This is a tactical role. Whereas the Financial Director role is a very specific executive role, the accounting role can either report to the Financial Director, or to the Director of Operations whichever is the most appropriate within the business environment. In smaller businesses the roles are typically combined whereas in banks the Finance Director will typically head the central treasury function, and the accounting function resides within the logical business unit under an Operations Director. The common denominator here is a recognised professional qualification, e.g. Chartered Accountant, for both roles, i.e. the function of the role is universally understood, as is the expected knowledge base. Different countries have different accounting standards and requirements so a multinational would have a local accounting presence tied into their central corporate accounting function.

The strategic aspect of the finance function can be considered as a value added cost centre, whereas the tactical aspect is essentially a pure cost centre and thus measured as a component of the cost to do business.

Whereas the outputs and deliverables of the finance function increase dramatically with the size of the organisation the information flows and contribution are well defined.

If we are prepared to accept this finance function as a reasonable template upon which to define the Facilities Management function as a professional service to an organisation then the principal characteristics could be summarised as follows:

  • The key personnel within the facilities management function will have a clearly defined value-added expertise that is universally recognised;
  • The facilities management function can provide both strategic and tactical capability;
  • The facilities management function must be an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

From my readings to date it appears that the facilities management function considers itself the poor relation to the more established professional property related disciplines such as architect, quantity surveyor, M&E consultants, real estate agent, et al. However it should also be apparent that they invariably have what the facilities manager does not have, i.e. a universally accepted accreditation. Before this can be achieved by the facilities manager function a clearly defined expertise must be established that is considered valuable in its own right. Such accreditation cannot be as expansive as some of the definitions that I have read because it will take too long to study, or the knowledge base so thin that it only has superficial value. On the basis that the other property related disciplines are already establish what is it that a facilities management function can bring to the table that can be demonstrated as valuable in its own right and thus worthy of professional status?

Let us also consider how the facilities management function, as it is now known, fits with the conventional Operations Director function. A facilities management function at a strategic (executive) level could be viewed as a dilution of the Operations Director function, and even be a direct conflict. A facilities management function at a tactical level could be seen as a rebranding of the Premises function albeit with an expanding regulatory, security, and compliance brief.

Having experienced the developments in the marketplace over some 30 years I have given some thought to the major changes in corporate behaviour, and the general business environment over recent years that could influence this debate and will comment on some developments that I think are relevant to this paper.

What has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years is the concept that a building should be adapted to the needs of the corporate occupant, rather than the corporate occupant having to adapt to the existing space provided by the landlord. Landlords have been forced by market pressures to allow corporate occupants to make significant changes (even structural) to the building environment to facilitate more effective use of the space. Indeed many new office buildings today are little more than shell and core to allow the fit-out and furbishment to comply with the requirements of the intended corporate occupant. This change of approach would, in itself, require a dedicated resource with an intimate knowledge of the corporate strategy, image, and objectives to oversee the design, contracting and delivery of the required operating space. Such a resource would need to know how to effectively instruct and guide professionals such as architects and interior designers, contractors, fit-out specialists, etc, and would need to understand enough about IT considerations, UPS, back-up power supplies, HVAC requirements, etc in order to delivery an appropriate but cost effective solution. Then there is the need to project manage such external resources to ensure a fluid implementation. However such a role cannot operate in isolation as much co-ordination with other in-house resources is fundamental to success. As such this role is not so much ‘what to deliver’ (strategic) but ‘how to best deliver’ (tactical).

Another relatively new, but significant area of consideration relating to office premises is the security risk, with specific interest in civil riots and terrorism. In cities where the threat of terrorism is now ever present the issue of location changes perspective. Not only is there a need to consider whether the proposed area of location of your office environment is susceptible to attack, but also if there are other corporates in your proposed choice of building that may be the target of specific interest groups as well as terrorists, and the impact any such attack would have on your ability to function and the safety of your staff. Having created office environments in a number of ‘unstable’ places throughout the World, and thus the need for some risk analysis regarding the safety of staff outside of working hours, impact of riots, civil commotion, etc., the required considerations today are far more important in the decision process of location, what type of building, physical presence to potential targets, etc. Thus the need for a greater awareness in the planning process of such impact analysis. Is this the, or one of the anchors of this ‘new’ corporate role?

Much legislation has emerged over recent years and which directly impacts the working space and environment. We have stifling Health & Safety legislation, environment legislation affecting both energy conservation in the workplace and waste recycling. All of this legislation has to be analysed and implemented, and to add pain to existing misery, much of this legislation is still evolving.

Many companies today have a culture revolving around a clear corporate identity. I remember back to the 1990’s during which major corporates were spending fortunes with the likes of Wally Olins, the corporate identity guru, to design a corporate identity to create a specific image of the company around which a companywide ethos and corporate culture was to be embraced by all staff regardless of location. The most memorable was BP who paid millions resulting in just a change in font and a slight change in colour to give BP a ‘softer’ image. A number of corporates took this vogue to extremes ensuring that all of their offices around the world had exactly the same ‘look & feel’ as you enter their offices. Gone were the days when a corporate logo on the building, and another above the reception desk would suffice. This practice not only has survived but is on the increase. To this end a tight control is needed, especially in developing economies, to ensure that the required ‘look & feel’ is exactly correct in all locations. A new office in a new country, or the refit of an acquisition cannot be left to a local person not least because they have they have been indoctrinated into the corporate culture, nor are familiar with the corporate identity requirement. The only real input of local staff in this function is the determination as to whether any of the aspects of the corporate identity would be deemed offensive in this new location – it has never ceased to amaze me how a little, innocuous aspect can cause real offense. Therefore the implementation of the physical aspects of corporate culture and identity need to be controlled from the core of the organisation whether simply the ‘look & feel’ of the reception area, or the ‘full monty’ all the way down to the tea cups. Every aspect, in this case, from building selection, fit-out, security all the way down to stationery and tea cups needs to be managed by someone intimately familiar with the corporate requirement, thus a role for a global facilities manager.

The expansion and contraction of the corporate working space as markets change is far more dynamic today, and the technology considerations even more so. Being able to deliver changes in environment at the speed of the requirement is a necessary skill of any Operations Director who would need capable facilities management skills far beyond what could be expected of someone whose principal responsibility is to support the business flow and expansion. Thus our elevation from a secondary, if not tertiary status of our premises manager to a rebranded front-line tactical facilities manager can be justified within the corporate framework.

If we go back to the proposed model and look at the suggested requirements that would be considered necessary to define a facilities management function we will see that:

  • We have not clearly defined a value-added facilities management expertise that is universally recognised (this is necessary to create professional identity);
  • Whereas we can certainly define a facilities manager as a valuable tactical resource, we cannot make the case for recognition as a separate (from Operations) strategic resource (other than in a few special cases);
  • The case is made that a facilities manager is an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

This would suggest that our facilities manager is a required and reasonable promotion of the previously known premises manager, and rebranded as a front-line tactical resource.

If this is the case then where do we place this role in terms of academic achievement? If we look at the underlying base knowledge regarding buildings and building management, and the requirement for an informed intimate knowledge of the needs of a corporate business, we could reasonably nestle this role between a first degree, preferably in a construction or engineering related subject, and an MBA.

Is it possible to define a specific formal qualification for a role as diverse as is necessary to be valuable in this facilities management function? Operating in a sphere already overloaded with professional accreditation, does yet another professional body bring value, or just unnecessary confusion? Let us consider an alternative tactical support role to our finance function. Probably the most important support role in an investment bank is the head of settlements. This role requires a vast range of knowledge and skills to ensure that a diverse range of transactions are properly converted into bottom-line profit, yet there is no formal qualification or even connected professional body. However their performance is fundamental to the success of the institution, and they will earn multiples of the remuneration of the chief financial officer who is required to have a formal recognised qualification and belongs to a professional body.

If we return to our finance function and examine why we have formal qualification and a professional body we essentially need to look outside of the corporate function of such professionals as they not only have a responsibility within the corporate framework, but have an equal responsibility to shareholders, revenue services, banks, investors, pension funds, et al who depend on accurate data based on a known and accepted common platform, and where they are accountable to their professional body who can revoke their licence to practice should they violate their duties to these external but directly interested parties. No such requirement exists for the facilities management function and therefore it could be argued, as with the settlements professionals, that neither a formal academic status, nor a professional body is a ‘must have’. Indeed I would suggest that should facilities managers really consider themselves the poor relation of other connected professions, they could significantly enhance their status by seeking recognition and membership of existing chartered institutions such as RICS in the UK, who are known and respected throughout the world as an institution representing excellence. A facilities manager with a FRICS after their name would certainly not be a poor relation of anyone in the property and construction sector.

I would not be surprised if RICS were to initiate a study of this role utilising the input of the very best of the facilities managers currently in situ to discuss a clear definition of the role that would be acceptable to RICS to justify accredited status, and for RICS to adopt these new professionals. Alternatively a lobby group of the best facilities managers could approach RICS with the same aim. A positive outcome would clearly quickly define the role and its professional accredited status. This would then have the impact of corporate acceptance and credibility.

For the sake of completeness of the status issue I would like to address acceptance of this role outside of the corporate structure. If we look at the task referred to earlier regarding a new office in Bahrain as an example it would not have been possible then, nor today, to gain access to the appropriate people in such countries had I not been a Director of the bank I represented, and with a full mandate to do what had to be done to achieve a result – local protocols need to be observed. It could be argued that the new-style facilities manager would be first into a new territory to explore such a task. However the skills required to secure the consents necessary to engage in any facilities process in such countries go far beyond the scope of a facilities manager, then or now, and thus would remain the executive role of the Director of Operations or equivalent. However I would expect the facilities manager to be resourceful enough to organise the small army of carriers to ensure that the office furniture arrived in time to open the office on the agreed date. Indeed I would strongly suggest that resourcefulness, especially on the global stage, is a pre-requisite requirement of a good facilities manager.

Clearly the silent assumption in much of the above argument is that we are discussing the sharp end of this profession as relates to dynamic corporates who have a growth curve, need to quickly adapt to ever changing market conditions, and typically operate internationally. But what is the population dynamic of this role in terms of both the number of people required for such roles, and the range of competence requirement from the highest to the lowest level of acceptance within the title of facilities manager. If my argument that the facilities manager is a relevant re-branding of the existing premises function for dynamic corporates then it is in the interest of these new professionals to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the role and competence of a facilities manager, and the existing premises function which, within a large number of corporate entities, is perfectly adequate for their needs. So what distinguishes a dynamic corporate from the rest? Do service providers such as large law firms, accountant/audit firms, et al need the same level of competence as banks or other trading environments? Do manufacturing companies need the same level of competence as high street retail chain stores? What type of companies can happily survive without the rebranded facilities manager?

My principal experience is with global financial institutions engaged in trading activities, with some knowledge of support organisations such as law firms, accountant/audit firms. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on other corporates other than comment on more obvious corporate structures. For example I would reasonably expect that facilities manager in a fast food franchise such as McDonalds to be an exception as the role is unusually strategic because part of the image of McDonalds is that you can walk into any McDonalds restaurant in the world and expect the same experience both in presentation and service. Thus the facilities manager is at the forefront of any new opening as well as ensuring that all existing locations maintain the required image at all times.

The only other comment that I would like to make, albeit instinctive rather than empirical, is that I do not see the argument for such a role in corporates having a normally stable environment. Most manufacturing companies come to mind unless they are managing a sizeable portfolio of properties in which case they probably have the function whether or not it is called facilities management. Therefore I see demand primarily in dynamic private corporates who need to actively respond to market demands in short order such as financial institutions, and in public services such as healthcare, police, etc.

I am sure that there are many ways to argue the case to justify the addition of this facilities management role against the more traditional premises function. However I would like to put on my hat as Director of Global Operations and apply a very simple budget criteria as a starting point. My process starts by attempting to define a job description for a tactical line manager to manage the corporate premises and associated environment (as opposed to an operations premises person) that adds real value to the business, warrants the status as a full-time position, and justifies the additional cost (I would expect the overall fixed costs of a facilities manager to be at least double that of a premises person) and this role would not replace my existing premises staff. My cost comparisons would naturally include the costs of outsourcing specific facilities functions. This is the real test of relevance of this role, and I would expect is the test that most serious corporates would adopt.

Currently the lack of an accepted definition of a facilities manager does not assist this process. Therefore I would need to add an additional parameter to my budget process along the lines of ‘are there anticipated tasks of a regular nature relating to facilities that require tactical expertise and a) would consume too much of my time, b) could not reliably be executed by existing premises staff, and c) the logistics of outsourcing versus in-house favour in-house’, i.e. outsourcing would not significantly reduce my and/or business management involvement. If this litmus test proves positive then I need this resource; but where do I find it?

Clearly my preference would be for someone who has relevant experience and has demonstrated capability in a similar arena, especially if I need this person to travel to other locations and represent me. The lack of professional accreditation does not help this search so I would need a specialist recruiter, or even go to the expense of a head hunter. As a professional manager I know when I have the right person in front of me, regardless of academic background, but educating a recruiter as to how to filter candidates will also be a task that needs some consideration. My overall experience of recruiters, with one or two glowing exceptions, is that very few show any signs of considered candidate analysis and thus possible ideal candidates will be lost in this process. This is where a RISC or equivalent accreditation would significantly help the process. Thus currently this whole process would take much time and thought, so the faster the definition and recognition of this role is established the easier it will be for corporates to engage with it.

In summary I think that I can satisfy myself that there is a case for a tactical support function called ‘facilities management’ albeit not required across the whole corporate spectrum. If my suspicion that such a role is limited to dynamic corporates and some public services then this is advantageous to establishing a definition of this tactical role which is clearly distinctive from the more usual operational premises function. Whether or not academia can provide input into this definition I think it would be very useful to attain accreditation from an established chartered institution such as RICS as this would enable corporates to embrace the role with the understanding of the associated value. Continual debate by academia is probably counterproductive in the establishment of this role.

Whether or not the mass corporate marketplace embraces this role conflicts with whether or not they need this function, or even understand it. Looking through the recruitment ads does reveal that the descriptions of this role are far too broad to recognise it as a defined profession. Some ads that I have read amount to no more than a traditional premises manager.

If the FM activists want to establish this role I would suggest that, in the UK, they encourage RICS to agree a definition of professional status for this role, and thus achieve a recognised accreditation. As in all professions the role will grow with time to its natural height, but the first step is a baseline that all interested parties can agree, and thus embrace.

If I was asked to lay down a marker for a valuable facilities manager it would be based on capable contribution to the delivery of an expanded trading function for a new product in an existing environment. The introduction of the actual capability to trade is time critical and can take no longer than 90 days including trading desks and complete environment support. At the meeting to agree such implementation I would expect a facilities manager to be able to confidently prescribe how the physical delivery of these trading desks could be managed with minimal interference to current trading activity, any safety and security issues that would need attention, and an approximate cost for budget purposes – all without reference to any third party during, or after such meeting. Thus an intimate knowledge of the business needs, and how make a valuable contribution.