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Category: compliance

17 November 2011Talent over compliance

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

A bit of culture this morning… if someone asked me what I know about Wagner (the opera one rather than the one from last year's X Factor) my word association would be German, Ride of the Valkyries, Apocalypse Now, dubious politics, very long and heavy-going operas.

I had never had the chance to enjoy or endure one of his operas so was excited to see a performance of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. It was 4 hours and 50 minutes and I was sure that I was going to be snoozing through parts of it. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was really enjoyable and the time just flew by.

The plot revolved around a German guild of male singers (The Mastersingers) that existed in Nuremburg from the 1500s to the 1800s. Admission to this elite group was via a series of auditions which were assessed by someone called the “Marker” and the marking was based on a series of arcane rules. In other words you had to tick all the boxes to be admitted. The opera tells the tale of a very talented singer who, in Act 1, fails the test and, without giving the game away too much, the rest of the opera is about his gaining membership but without compromising on his personal style. In the end talent triumphs over compliance.

I was chatting to a fellow attender after the performance who knew the opera and quite a lot about Wagner. He said that this opera was a statement by Wagner that reflected his own situation – whereby his music was being judged in relation to the musical principles of the day which sought to constrain him rather than encourage him to develop his own style and let his obvious talent flourish. This sounds a lot like the initial rejection of the Impressionists by the Paris Salon who were judging impressionist landscapes by the standards of the classical.

In organisations there is a place for rules – for clarity and certainty. But all too often they control and constrain. I once spent a day visiting several PC World stores and on entering was greeted with the phrase “What brings you to PC World today?”. Why do you need that rule? Why not instead ask staff to greet customers and allow them to find their own way to do it. And everyone will be different – and real.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

27 October 201125 years of Big Bang

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

Big Bang – the deregulation of the City of London – took place 25 years ago today and there has been a transformation and revolution in the whole financial industry. I am sure much good has come from it for London and the UK and in terms of support for business. However, in life for every benefit there is a cost and clearly Big Bang started us on the road to the Credit Crunch and the problems in the Eurozone that dominate the news today. I am no expert on the financial markets but it is interesting to look at the cultural impacts of the change that, if they were recognised at the time, don't seem to have been addressed. When I started in business the City had two major players in the Stock Market – the jobbers who were the market makers and the brokers who were the intermediaries between client and jobber, advising clients on investments and then buying them from the jobbers. Most of these organisations were partnerships with unlimited liability. Today these functions are both carried out by global investment banks.

 

To me the pre Big Bank approach provided a good balance in the market. First, no conflicts of interest (as seemed to be the case when a leading investment bank was recently prosecuted for advising their clients to buy the dodgy investments that they were selling). Second, there is less sense of personal responsibility today. Back in the early 80s the jobbers were putting their own personal capital on the line – with the corollary being that they could lose everything. You would expect that would result in less speculation and more sensible behaviour. Today, traders use their banks' capital and if they lose a lot of money it seems the worst that happens is they get sacked and then go and find a job somewhere else.

 

Bankers will say there are numerous benefits to deregulation around availability and cost of capital, market efficiency etc but I don't think the industry (or the regulations) has really dealt with this issue of responsibility and accountability. I don't underestimate the scale of industry and indeed societal change that is needed but until we start on that road I think we will continue to live the unintended consequences of Big Bang with Governments and regulators playing catch up and forever closing stable doors a little too late.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

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