CITY GRANDEES DEBATE FUTURE OF UK BANKING

 
Elizabeth Fournier
MAGIC circle law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Fleet Street offices played host last night to a City crowd debating one of the most pertinent questions currently facing the UK’s politicians, regulators and bankers – whether the country’s biggest banks should be forcibly broken up, or whether other kinds of reforms are the best way forward.

The discussion, organised by business group London First, brought together some of the City’s most influential figures, with Sainsbury’s chairman David Tyler, KPMG co-chair John Griffith-Jones, Tory grandee Steven Norris, Green Investment Bank boss Sir Adrian Montague, Freshfields London managing partner Tim Jones, City of London Police commissioner Adrian Leppard and many others finding time to join the audience tackling the contentious topic.

In the corner fighting for a break-up were Michael Mainelli, chairman of City commercial think tank Z/Yen and Simon English of the Evening Standard, with GE Capital chief exec John Jenkins as their witness for the prosecution. “Large banks howling about downsizing is exactly what we want,” argued Jenkins, adding his support to the argument that the UK’s biggest banks should be broken into eight pieces each.

Opposing a compulsory break-up were British Land boss Chris Griggs and City A.M. editor Allister Heath, with witness Sir Win Bischoff (right) of Lloyds insisting: “UK banks have some of the best capital in Europe. It is not the structure that is broken. The steering may need directing and the engine needs to lower speed, but the structure isn’t broken.”

And in the end Sir Win’s team was the winner, with a show-of-hands vote among the 75 attendees coming down firmly on the side of those who opposed Glass-Steagall-style break-ups.

To paraphrase the event’s title, when it comes to banking it looks like London remains firmly in favour of big and brave, as opposed to boring.

WAKE UP CALL
WHEN Intercontinental Hotels Group chief executive Andy Cosslett announced his surprise departure from the company earlier this year, he admitted that non-stop globetrotting for work had taken its toll over the years.

So it’s nice to hear that even the most weary of business travellers can still be left with their mouths gaping at some of the weird and wonderful sights around the world – even if it is at the expense of their employees’ beauty sleep.

One IHG staffer tells of the time that Cosslett called him one morning from Hong Kong – seven hours ahead of British Summer Time – to rave about the view from the penthouse suite of the group’s new hotel in the city.

“Andy phoned me at an unearthly hour and was saying: ‘You just have to see this place. We walked around the suite and it took about 20 minutes!’ – he was in awe.”

Soon after the overwhelming visit, Cosslett left the company, saying that he had no immediate plans for work and would take a few months to “assess his options”. Though he’s kept a low profile ever since, The Capitalist can think of much less pleasant places from which to plot your next move than an infinity pool overlooking the Pearl of the Orient.

GET GRIPES NOTICED
BOARDS, beware: ShareSoc, the private shareholder society, has published a kit to help aspiring activist investors to get their gripes noticed.

Top of the list is to be clear what you are complaining about – and avoid landing yourself in hot water while doing so.

“You may feel that the directors are dishonest crooks who are only lining their own pockets at your expense, but putting that into writing on a bulletin board or elsewhere is a recipe for large legal costs,” it sagely suggests.

ShareSoc may do well to heed its own advice when it comes to the section on lawyers, though – it tells readers: “Past experience shows that lawyers are notorious for not tracking costs, not billing clients promptly, going over-budget without warning, and other poor practices.”

THE PLACE TO BE SEEN
NOT content with building the UK’s tallest tower, developer Sellar Property has started work on a smaller sister block in order to lure more City firms to the South Bank.

Imaginatively named The Place, the 17-storey glass building (pictured below) will be ready in 2013, less than a year after next door neighbour The Shard opens its gigantic doors to tenants. Chairman Irvine Sellar has hired no less than four sets of estate agents to market the two buildings, fostering what he calls “healthy competition” as Knight Frank and Jones Lang LaSalle race to sell floorplates in The Shard before rivals Colliers and CB Richard Ellis can find a company to take space in The Place.

“There will be trouble if the Shard guys can’t beat us to sign the first tenant,” joked once CBRE agent yesterday at the launch.

Perhaps a fresh sighting of The Shard’s most famous tenant so far – the fox that was found living on the 72nd floor in February – could spark renewed interest in the skyscraper?

Harriet Dennys is away.