If we must have a banking enquiry then make it cheap and fast.

I should state from the outset that I am against a banking enquiry if it is the ‘9/11 style public enquiry‘ it was originally billed by Patrick Honohan as (pic related). I also believe the primary failure in Ireland was one firstly of regulation and governance over and above what went on within the banking system, it is after all, the responsibility of regulators to exert their control over the systemic aspects of banking rather than vice versa, however, it seems to be the popular choice to have an enquiry and thus I have outlined how a relatively cheap investigation might be set up.

The people of Ireland are calling for blood and it is no surprise that various powers now want to deliver on it, they join other leaders from antiquity such as Titus, Nero and Caesar in wanting to please the masses with blood-letting, sadly, we have a history of making any investigation extremely expensive (it would actually be cheaper to have a real life gladiator tournament than a tribunal) often with little result – the tribunals are largely testament to this, in particular when they involve white-collar issues and not criminal ones. The fact is that in Ireland after an investigation find you guilty, that if you are rich enough you tend not to go to jail, and the only hardship might be having to cover your own legal bills.

So in advance we have several aims.

1. clearly define what it is that we are trying to ‘investigate’, much of the activity in banking is well documented and there is a large and clearly defined audit trail, for this a knowledgeable auditor can do
the job if there are specific issues known in advance that need to be considered. So if the issue is that ‘bad loans were intentionally placed’ or that ‘underwriting requirements were avoided’ or ‘legal requirements circumvented’ then it is all right there in the audit trail, oddly though, the feeling I get is that people want a general ‘explanation’ with a motive attached, I don’t know that we will ever get one, even if we stopped the entire nation to focus only on this enquiry.

2. define the parameters of relevance, is this about breach of regulation, irregular practice or outright illegal activity, depending on what you opt for (or indeed if we opt for all of them) it may be a case that we don’t need to do much research at all. This ties in with point 1, because banking is such a paper-trail intensive industry there is very little that cannot be uncovered with relative ease, if however it has more to do with conversations in board-rooms and the like then we get into a softer brand of evidence.

3. set a time frame and make the results public, something the Government fails to do, and when they do they don’t stick to it, not even when its a fairly set infrastructure project (think LUAS, Port Tunnel etc.).

Process: The first thing to do would be to remove the onus of discovery from the regulators alone, they don’t have the resources and it would take far too long, instead we should have a two phase initial inquiry which encourages people to rat out the wrongdoers.

I know (only anecdotally) that there is a huge amount of rage within the rank and file banking staff, they would all be only too happy to make sure that any people at the top that they can expose are given what they see as their comeuppance. There is a precedent there too, most of the public don’t know that former BOI chief Michael Soden was vigorously paring down BOI’s IT department just prior to the precarious information being found on his PC, odd that… You go to chop the IT department then suddenly the IT department brings you down?

There might be a ‘cosy cartel’ or ‘golden circle’, we see that kind of language used to describe many things if you look at some of the books out this year, or the tv/paper headlines, but in these ‘circles’ their strength lies only between themselves, every other rank and file member of financial institutions are likely more than happy to see these people brought down, and they want vindication for the regular Joe’s, this is one course where they might achieve it.

Phase 1: (60 days) anybody who worked in finance within the last decade can send an affidavit into the regulator, they can turn whistle-blower on any activity they know about within any field they have worked within, giving names, rough dates etc. equally, anybody can write in a confession in advance, stating their version of events upon any activity that may have been done with bent rules or contrary to regulation/law. This will provide a large body of evidence for the regulator to read through, they can then tie together the various affidavits to the organisations they relate to and that will be the foundation of further investigation. The obvious flaw is that perhaps nobody will whistle-blow, but this could easily be worked around by ensuring that professional bodies will get involved if any wrongdoing is uncovered

Phase 2: (30 days) The Regulator reads through the statements and filters them into criminal, very serious, serious, breach without serious implication and non-serious strata’s, then they set to work on the biggest ones first.

phase 3: (40 days) there would need to be some precedent set so that people implicated in the affidavits from phase one are placed with a burden of proof in phase 3, all the people implicated from phase 1 will have to defend their position from any implication placed against them in phase 1, rightly or wrongly, the people who come clean in the first instance should be given a precedence of ‘truth’ so that there is no reverse investigation based solely upon their affidavit, so they can’t ‘self incriminate’, however, they can eventually be investigated if they failed out outline their own role, if they do confess and help then you do the standard treatment of greater leniency for them.

Finance isn’t like the Mafia, people won’t protect each other, perhaps if there is guaranteed anonymity for the people who make statements in phase 1 (not anonymous submission, but within the investigative process if their identification is protected) then it will encourage a full disclosure from within industry. The fact is that getting people to dob each other in from within is far more effective than trying to get in and pry answers from without. It works in breaking drug rings, criminal gangs, it is cornerstone of the RICO act and history tells us that people have an innate desire to not live in prison, so even the biggest criminals rat others out, they might be competitors or former bosses, it doesn’t matter, its effective.

phase 4: 6 months: All of the information is studied and investigated, the most pertinent being dealt with first and the less important either going into later investigations or thrown out altogether depending on the gravity of same – but with a formal warning issued as a precaution.

The regulator must then have a set level of fines which is relative to the size of the firm and or individual in breach, and professional bodies must also be involved – to the degree that any criminal breach or high level regulation breach results in the removal of professional recognition (eg: Institute of Bankers/ LIA would strip people of QFA, ACCA, ACA, CFA etc.) would all endeavour to do the same, and the regulator would create a ‘black list’ of people from the investigation so that it is known publicly, a further move would be that these individuals cannot be directors of financial firms, or become regulated personally, effectively we need to ‘clean out’ the system, in one fell swoop, not via the slow grinding attrition that we have seen thus far where the culpable are creating their own terms of termination.

The end result is that criminals would graduate to jail, and serious offenders are dealt with in a variety of different punitive manners, but if it must be done, then it must be done quick, with a set agenda. We shouldn’t put the uncovering of some ‘higher truth’ that we won’t ever really obtain above that of running a cost effective investigation in a timely manner.

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