17 January 2010

With a bully crew and a captain too

If NSW and Australia had better governments they would take full advantage of this predicament in which the Poms have found put themselves.

Australia's big four banks have reasserted their dominance of the market, and they constitute something like a fifth of the Australian Stock Exchange. They do not appear to be becoming complacent (except, perhaps, in residential mortgages) but this is only a matter of time. The Federal Government appears unperturbed by this development, and a wise government would set a regulatory framework whereby Australian banks were strong but not complacent, and as solid and as innovative as any banks anywhere.

Peter Sands, group chief executive of Standard Chartered, one the UK's big five banks, said that conditions were now worse in London and that new financial business was more likely to locate elsewhere.

"I'm afraid to say that London has been damaged both by the failures of management of regulation that led to the crisis and some of the responses to the crisis," Mr Sands told The Sunday Telegraph.

What should happen is that state and federal leaders should step up and tell British banks to shift more of their operations to Sydney. Nick Greiner and Jeff Kennett would have done that (well, Kennett would have suggested they move to Melbourne but this idea is of course preposterous). Costello might have made an idle comment on the topic but left it at that. Mike Baird might do it for NSW, but by next year it would be too late.

It would have been bold and daring: UK retailers recognise that Australia is a market they need to be in, UK miners and mining investors know that Australia is where it's at (except for those hardy souls who think they'd be better off in São Paulo, Lagos, Baku or Sandton). Follow your clients and start expanding your Sydney offices, save on rents in Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street. The quality of bankers available to the Australian market would improve and it would keep the Australian institutions on their toes. It would accelerate a trend of shifting capital to the Asia-Pacific region without openly and directly ceding regulatory sovereignty to China.

Of course, it would never happen. Kristina Keneally would have no credibility at all and Wayne Swan appears fully occupied. Rudd would run into problems with British Labour, which provided support for the ALP in the '07 election: a campaign like this would be a further loss of face for Brown & Co. at a time when their electoral prospects pretty much shot. The UK will elect a new government this year and this window of opportunity will close.

These are the sort of opportunities you miss out on when your governments are crap and your oppositions are no better. You need ambitions not because it's great to be disappointed on a regular basis, but to set standards that won't be satisfied by whatever pap the incumbents think might be good enough for the likes of us.


  1. Should that be "Appear to BE becoming complacent"? Excuse my fastidiousness but I think that sentence leapt out at me because I have been contemplating changing from one of the big four and the potential fuss of shifting mortgages and pensions has been the main hurdle. Perhaps the complacency of the banks is somewhat proportional to the indolence and fuss aversion of their microclients?

  2. Indeed it is, thank you. I don't normally publish anonymous posts but those that contribute to the site are an exception.

    If enough "microclients" act, banks can respond - ANZ were quite good at this though that may have changed.