A VERY thick skin is an obvious requirement for a banker in Britain in the 21st century. How else to explain that a bank saved from disaster by the government (hence by the tax payer) only one year ago and still being 70 per cent government-owned is proposing to pay its star staff 1.5 billion pounds in bonuses despite the public outcry about the inappropriateness of such payments at the present time. The bank, of course, is the Royal Bank of Scotland which is sticking to its bonus plan even though it is believed to be one of the creditors with the biggest exposure to Dubai World's default. A rhinoceros would be envious.

The argument of RBS is that if it refuses to pay bonuses its best staff will leave, reducing its ability to make the money to pay back what is owed to the government and also giving its competitors the chance to employ its best people. There may be some truth in that but it begs the question of where the loyalty of these smart financiers lies. Do they live and work in such isolation from the real world that they are unaware of how they are regarded by the rest of the British people? Is the top management of RBS incapable of persuading them that in the national interest they should be less greedy and short-sighted? As things stand their attitudes play into the hands of Nicolas Sarkozy and others who think tougher regulation of banks in necessary.


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