Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Should Pat Molloy of Bank of Ireland Have Apologized at the EGM?

I noted yesterday that BOI Governor Pat Molloy did not offer any apology at the EGM, and skated over the issue of responsibility for the mess the bank finds itself in. His remarks are somewhat of a contrast with CEOs at banks in the US, where there has been some genuflection from previously snooty bankers. As the NYT reports today, "former Time Warner chief, Gerald M. Levin, dropped jaws last week by taking the blame for “the worst deal of the century,” the decade-old merger of America Online and Time Warner."

Giving away Time Warner, one of America's most respected companies, for AOL stock at the height of the dot com bubble must rank as one of the worst M&A deals of all time. While an apology does not undo that error, an admission of responsibility offers some salve to bitter shareholders.

The NYT report also quotes Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs offering these tepid words: “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret and apologize for.” He had previously claimed that Goldman was doing "God's work" - clearly undiminished hubris. Blankfein can expect to face some serious grilling at the US FCIC's hearings today.

BOI has a history of dodging blame for its role in the financial crisis here. For example, former CEO Brian Goggin, who made millions in pay and bonuses, seems unrepentent based on these glib quotes from an Irish Independent news report last February:

"If I was kind of looking back and doing it again, [there] is a regret that I do have that I didn't, perhaps, question in a more challenging way, the ultimate growth that Ireland was enjoying and the fact that it was unsustainable."

Asked if he owed the taxpayer an apology, Mr Goggin said: "Well, I'm not so sure that it actually comes to an apology as such. I mean I do regret some of our decisions. I have to balance that with lots and lots of very good decisions that we've made."

American Bankers at least have the threat of potential shareholder lawsuits as an excuse to offer for declining to apologize. Irish bankers, on the other hand, do not even have that fig leaf. Given the political leadership's reluctance to do anything to fix the underlying problems, we will muddle on from this bank crisis to the next.