OPINION: Simplicity Can Win

Terry Flanagan

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has correctly decided that the best film last year was Boyhood.

Director Richard Linklater tells an everyday story of an everyday boy. However Linklater does not tell his story in an ordinary way. He shows us the story of Mason, from his arrival at primary school through to his arrival at college, by filming the same cast over a period of 12 years. Ellar Coltrane, the boy in Boyhood, started working on the film when he was just six. In his Bafta speech Coltrane described the movie as being interested in the simplicity of human interaction and showing us that life itself does not have to be full of explosions or tragedy to be exciting.

Simplicity is something that often seems to escape the financial industry.

Andrew Hauser, director of markets strategy, at the Bank of England implied in a speech last month that regulation could be much simpler if banking culture enforced good behaviour.

He gave the example of Navy pilots who are obsessed with safety, not because they are afraid of fines, but because they are aware of the dangerous consequences of failure.

Hauser said: “Traders will never face the same threat to life and limb as fighter pilots. But nothing focuses the mind as effectively as the knowledge that professional demise for themselves and their teams is a real possibility if they don’t conduct themselves properly.”

Getting bankers to conduct themselves properly seems like a simple task but there has been a seemingly never-ending string of fines and investigations since the credit crisis.

Just this week the press reported that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary helped clients to hide their bank accounts from the tax man. For example, the European Savings Directive was introduced in 2005 to allow Swiss banks to take tax owed from undeclared accounts and pass it to the authorities. However HSBC wrote to customers and offered to  help them get around the new law according to the BBC.

HSBC said in a statement that it has fundamentally changed and now puts compliance and tax transparency ahead of profitability. You would have thought that it would have been simple to have done that in the first place, especially as Stephen Green, then-chairman of the bank, is an ordained Church of England minister.

In 2009 Green published his book, “Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World.” He wrote: “One of the most obvious and commonplace manifestations of the tendency to compartmentalize is seeing our life work as being a neutral realm in which questions of value (other than shareholder value) or of rightness (other than what is lawful) or of wisdom (other than what is practical) need not arise.”

There needs to be a top-down, wholesale change in culture but although the problem is quite simple to identify, the solution seems to be proving very difficult to implement.

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