Monday, April 8, 2013

Matrix for judging banks: competent/incompetent versus good/evil

In an interesting editorial in the London Evening Standard, Jim Armitage discusses a 2x2 matrix for judging banks.  On the x-axis is incompetent/competent.  On the y-axis is evil/good.

Naturally, the goal is to have all banks in the quadrant of the matrix that is defined by competent and good.

The question is where are we now?

Based on everything that has happened to date, there are very few, if any, banks in the competent and good quadrant.

Looking at banks in the UK, Mr. Armitage suggests
HSBC was generally competent and good, RBS was incompetent and evil, Lloyds was incompetent and good and Barclays was competent and evil.
Of course, HSBC's rating does not include its recidivist tendencies when it comes to money laundering.  So, a rating of competent and evil appears more appropriate.

What about Standard Chartered?  Again, due to its money laundering, a rating of competent and evil appears appropriate.

Given that the goal is to get all banks into the competent and good quadrant, what does it take to move along the y-axis from evil to good?

Regular readers know that it takes transparency.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

When a bank provides ultra transparency and discloses on an ongoing basis its current global asset, liability and off-balance sheet exposure details, it is forced to adopt a culture of good behavior.  A bank is forced to adopt a culture of good behavior because of market discipline.

So long as bankers can hide behind a veil of opacity, the Bank of England's Andrew Haldane refers to banks as "black boxes", they will engage in bad behavior as they are not subject to market discipline.

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