It's eight years since the Lehman Brothers collapse. What's changed?

Billy Bambrough
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Lehman Brothers Put Their Artworks Up For Auction
Good times were had by none (Source: Getty)

Eight years ago today US banking giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

This was an unprecedented event in the modern financial world and it sent shock waves through global markets. We're still recovering from some of them.

The bank's collapse has now entered the vocabulary as a term for when an industry has a potentially catastrophic moment. It is used again. And again. And again. And again (maybe it was just an Allister Heath thing).

Read more: Lehman Brothers returns as whisky brand

Eight years ago City A.M. covered the collapse of Lehman on its front page. It was one of the few British papers to do so because the news broke so late. Here's the front page from that day:

So eight years on, how does the post-Lehman Brothers world look?

Banking industry

The financial crash, heralded by the collapse of Lehman, was bad news for pretty much everyone. It was especially bad news for the banking industry.

The US has come quite far in terms of recovery, though Europe has had other challenges to deal with over the subsequent eight years which have hampered the financial sector's return to health.

The performance of European banks overall has been dire and it's unlikely we'll see the UK banking industry ever retake its crown as the world's biggest.

It's hard to imagine the Royal Bank of Scotland – now into its eighth year of consecutive losses – ever again becoming the world's biggest bank by assets.

The Stoxx 600 Banks Index is down some 52 per cent since the demise of Lehman Brothers, while the KBW Bank Index of US lenders has lost just 0.5 per cent. Asian banks are doing better still, with the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Banks Index up 11 per cent.


Earlier this year Office for National Statistics figures showed finance sector workers are being paid billions less in bonuses than they were before the 2008 financial crisis.

Total bonus payments in finance and insurance reached £13.6bn in the year to April, £5bn less than their pre-recession peak. Economy-wide, bonuses are just 0.1 per cent below their pre-crisis peak at £42.4bn, with other industries gaining ground on the City.

Bank regulation

Regulation has increased, capital controls are up, and banks have fewer freedoms than they used to.

Compliance has rapidly become one of banks' biggest expenditures as they battle to remain on top of ever-tightening regulation.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and KPMG recently warned a toxic mix of bad debts and regulatory fines will see some of London’s biggest banks struggle to reach sustained profitability.

Nomura became the latest investment bank to announce redundancies, as it cuts jobs to deal with a new regulatory world.


The use of automated trading and dark pools – trades with no pre-trade transparency, hiding and anonymising price and volume of orders – has exploded since the crash.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is now cracking down on use of the platforms and banks have been told they must improve their handling of conflicts of interest.

Dark pools have attracted criticism and claims they disadvantage traditional investors and distort market pricing.

Passive investors are on the rise as a "very volatile year for markets” split investors between either high-profile, active fund managers, or low-cost index funds.


The cause of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the wider financial crisis was not down to one thing.

However, the culture at banks that ran into trouble has been flogged in the stocks on a near weekly basis since 2008.

It was quickly identified as an area where blame could be pointed and work was began immediately to reform what was labelled as a "toxic culture of greed".

But has anything changed?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said this year it was scrapping plans for an inquiry into the culture and behaviour of British bank employees, saying that each lender was unique and could not be easily compared.

Former business secretary Vince Cable said former chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England governor Mark Carney are bowing to lobbying pressure and turning a “blind eye” to “abuses in the [banking system]” while taking part in a “concerted approach” with the regulators to “take some of the pressure off the banks”.

Banks – of course – disagree.

In the US, Wells Fargo chief executive John Stumpf earlier this week passed the blame for alleged illegal sales practises from the banks sales culture to individual employees. He argued the problem was not endemic.

Could a Lehman Brothers style situation happen again?

Some have suggested – despite the capital controls, the constant warnings, and the changed culture – history could repeat itself.

The outlook for European banks is gloomy. Debt in China is skyrocketing. Central banks are in unchartered water, trapped in a well of low interest rates. And the Eurozone remains a mess.

Another Lehman Brothers moment could be just around the corner.

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