What’s Happened to the Co-Operative Bank?

You may well ask what has happened to the Co-Operative Bank? which has really come under fire of late. There is a very sad tale of Paul Flowers, the Chairman of the Bank since 2010. Mr Flowers has displayed some poor judgement, which he has admitted, but perhaps what is far more serious and telling of the problems within Banking and in particular the Co-Operative, is that it very difficult to see how he had the necessary skills and experience to run a large commercial Bank.

Experience from Inexperience?

Mr Flowers is a Methodist minister and for all I know he may be a wonderfully gifted one, however a 4 year job at NatWest when aged 19 (according to the BBC report) appears to be the sum total of his Banking experience. Now before everyone blows hot and cold on this, a Prime Minister has no experience of being one until they are elected, the same is true of pretty much any political position. There is certainly a case to be made for “you don’t get experience without starting without any” however it is more than surprising that in the months following the Credit Crunch he was appointed to such a significant position. I am not blaming Mr Flowers, but one has to question the wisdom of the Co-Operative Board and of course the regulatory approving body.

Biting off rather more than can be chewed

We all have off days and I’m sure have on occasion performed below expectations when “examined under the spot-light” and I can only hope that this explains his when questioned by the Treasury Select Committee on 6th November. This is shown on the BBC website and rather speaks for itself. Mr Flowers might be a thoroughly good man (my hope if he is a Methodist minister) however being a nice or decent bloke does not qualify you to run a multi-billion operation.

Blushes not SmilesSmile Bank logo

I am not suggesting that Mr Flowers is entirely responsible for the demise of the Co-op Bank, (which includes Smile and Britannia) but losses of £781m are hard to ignore. I wonder if you can read the figures held within the Group Interim Report 2013 any better. Turn to page 12 on see the Balance sheet. I can only assume that Mr Flowers was thinking of Consolidated Net Assets of £3.5bn rather than assets of the Bank.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of co-operatives and any organisation that attempts to apply ethics to business practice as the Co-Operative have claimed over the years….Heaven knows we could all do with a competitive retail banking sector that has some decency! So the plight of Co-Op is all rather saddening. I hope that they can be “fixed” but now run by Hedge Fund Managers, not known for their ethics, but for their asset stripping results.  To my mind this appears to be the point at which the Co-Op Bank’s core values will either shine or fizzle out, consigned to history.

Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA