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Ian Campbell

Ian Campbell

Through his www.BusinessTransitionSimplified.com website and his Business Transition & Valuation Review newsletter Ian R. Campbell shares his perspectives on business transition, business valuation and world…

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Trust and the Banks

Why read: Because if you haven't focused on this issue, and the possible consequences of it, you ought to.

Commentary: Over the past twenty years the world financial system has become increasing interconnected, and as that has occurred, different assets classes previously thought to be unrelated have become very interrelated, such that they all now in many banks sit in one 'basket'. This has resulted in:

  • individual banks and 'investment banks' having quite different and much more complex risk profiles than they had twenty years, or even ten years, ago; where,

  • increased and more complex risk typically requires increased Board and Management diligence and exercise of proper and prudent business practices when managing those risks.

Keeping that in mind, consider the following two scenarios. You are happily married, or so you think, when you find your spouse of ten years has:

  • had an affair. There can be little question that your view of your spouse will be impacted, and it will affect the important 'trust relationship' you had with him/her to some degree. Stated simply, things will never be the same between you. Could they be better - perhaps, but on the balance of probabilities your relationship will be negatively impacted; or,

  • been promiscuous. That likely for you is a 'horse of different colour'. If your marriage somehow survives such a thing, the important marital 'trust relationship' you had with him/her is likely to be shattered, in all probability irreparably.

Assuming, hopeful not through personal experience, the foregoing resonates with you, consider whether what has come out over the past several years and in recent weeks will, and has, either seriously harm or irreparably fracture investor, trader and general public perception of the banks and in particular, perception of the 'investment banks'.

In summary, the following things (among others) have happened since 2007 that might cause more than one person to raise their eyebrows and see the world's bankers through less-trusting eyes than they otherwise might;

  • the levels of salaries, bonuses and severance payments made to banking sector executives;

  • the sub-prime mortgage crisis and its continuing after-math;

  • the MF Global fiasco that came to the fore in September, 2011, with intermittent news continuing to be reported;

  • the Spanish banks undercapitalization expose;

  • the JPMorgan derivatives losses announcement and ongoing news coverage;

  • the recently publicly exposed and ongoing Libor situation; and,

  • the list goes on.

Consider the possible outcomes of this maelstrom of 'bad business' in the banking sector as these and very likely more regrettable banking sector news comes forward in the next weeks and months. At least some these are likely to be that investors, traders and the general public (collectively 'non-bankers'):

  • will increasingly mistrust the financial system;

  • will increasingly mistrust specific banks and investment banks; and,

  • where some or many of them at some point may simply 'vote with their feet' after concluding that their mistrust of the banks and investment banks, and hence the financial markets, is such that they are no longer interested in participating on the theory that everything has to have a 'breaking point'.

While I don't think movement out of the financial markets for reasons related to such mis-trust is imminent, if I were a money manager at 'street level' this 'trust issue' is certainly one I would be concerned about.

From my perspective, this is one of the reasons I believe that the best investors and traders will assume increasing responsibility and exercise increased input in the management of their investments and trades going forward.

It is also why I have come to believe laws should be put in place to return the separation of commercial banking and investment banking, thereby segregating what are quite different risk profiles, and enabling a clearer path to fair regulation.

Topical References: Why Libor matters to Main Street, from The Globe and Mail, Joanna Slater, July 11, 2012 - reading time 3 minutes; and LIBOR Manipulation Leads to Questions Regarding Gold Manipulation, from Financial Sense, Mark O'Byrne, July 11, 2012, reading time 3 minutes.


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