HSBC has been in the news a lot just recently and the UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee (PAC) were grilling three more executives on Monday 9 March to delve further into the tax evasion scandal that happened at the banks Swiss subsidiary. It was a grueling encounter even for the most hardened company executive not helped by the live television screening which no doubt provided some members of the PAC with the opportunity to play to the camera.
Both the Chairman and CEO of the banking behemoth HSBC have recently appeared before the Treasury Committee of the UK Parliament in connection with the Swiss Tax Scandal . The bank’s Board had previously issued an apology for the scandal to its shareholders and the public in general .
The argument made by the HSBC Board is basically “We didn’t know, how could we? We are a huge organization. It would not happen today”.
Ignorance is bliss.
The S& P saga rumbles on. Having been hammered by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in January , S&P has received a knock-out blow, and a $1.375 billion fine, from the US Department of Justice and 20 State governments . And in what might the first of many private actions, S&P also reached a separate $125 million settlement with the huge pension fund California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS) .
What has received little publicity, however, are the implications of the S&P settlement with regard to Corporate Governance, in general, and Codes of Conduct in particular.
A recent research report  suggests that an ethnically diverse group is better at making decisions than a group that are all alike. These results build on other studies that show that diverse groups in general are better at making decisions . Irving Janis, who first identified the concept , argues that ‘homogeneity’ is one of the key prerequisites for Groupthink, which is a bad outcome. So all we have to do to prevent Groupthink is to insist on diversity, especially at the Board level?
Whoa, hold on, it is not as easy as that! It turns out that it doesn’t come down to ‘diversity’ per se but ‘Trust’.
The 2008 HBOS Rights Issue
In April 2008, HBOS was on life support when, in a last throw of the dice, the Board decided to launch a rights issue to raise some £4 billion in capital. This was a spectacularly ‘bad’ decision, not because the issue was a complete flop with just over an 8% take-up, but because the prospectus that the Board approved was to put it mildly a ‘work of [half] fiction’, particularly as regards the level of provisions for credit defaults.