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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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Comments (2)

20 December 2011

Deacon

Now that's sultbe! Great to hear from you.

28 October 2011

Mark Iliff

Some figures I heard recently:
- cost to taxpayer of ringfencing bank debt: 6bn
- annual payroll of UK banks: 14bn.

Some opportunities for responsibility and accountability there, perhaps.

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