Hindsight Defence From Architect of RBS/ABN Amro Deal Doesn't Wash

Bars Of Soap

You might have assumed that advising Royal Bank of Scotland in 2007 to go ahead and lead a three-way consortium bid for ABN Amro would wreck the career of a senior investment banker given the mess that resulted.

Not so. Andrea Orcel was at Merrill Lynch in those days but has risen now to be head of UBS's investment banking division. Asked by the commission on banking standards about the RBS/ABN deal, for which he reputedly received a fee of $12m (£7.5m), Orcel stated the bleedin' obvious: "If we'd known what we know today, we would have advised them not to proceed."

That's an example of bankers' "hindsight" defence, the notion that nobody could have foreseen the trouble in store. It is rarely persuasive and definitely isn't in the case of the RBS/ABN transaction. Remember that the credit bubble was already deflating by the time RBS definitively pressed the button on a deal that would erode its rainy-day capital buffers almost to nothing. The world was also awash with pundits (even here) warning that the £71bn price tag was absurd and that the "winner's curse" would apply. Orcel had ample time to urge his client to pull out.

A grovelling apology to UK citizens would have been better response to the MPs. In its absence, take with a large pinch of salt Orcel's other remarks about bankers having to shed their past arrogance.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nils Pratley, for The Guardian on Wednesday 9th January 2013 18.19 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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