Back Seat Drivers (& a view on that chap from UBS)

I promised during my last visit to Enterprise Britain that I would spill the beans on a new scandal that I’m aware of in UK outside the City of London (& NHS) but of course the events of the last 24 hours concerning Mr Kweku Mawuli Adoboli of UBS have rather got in the way of the scoop.

Instead I’m going to talk about another hang up of mine that I call “BACK SEAT DRIVERS” which is bound to upset a few people but frankly m’dear I don’t give a damn. I’ll discuss Mr Adoboli later. READ ON Dear Reader…..

Years ago my grand-father, a respected and well known stockbroker, used to travel to his office in Copthall Avenue from a small railway station in Hildenborough, Kent, with 2 friends, a Mr Letts (of the diary family) & a Mr Abrams of Coutts & Co, Bankers. For years they enjoyed respectable living and yarns of the Penshurst Home Guard that they were all part of.

Sadly my grand-father was diagnosed with various ailments in the late ’50s leading to various operations and amputations so he decided to get himself a chauffeur and a new Citroen DS to go with it. Or was it the other way round? Anyway, the chauffeur, Mr Weston, used to drive him to the City and back most days until he was forced eventually to give up work at the firm.

My grand-father like most of the privileged few used to talk openly to Weston (I never knew his first name) about all matter of things and Weston became part of the furniture so to speak. The interesting thing about this relationship was that both knew what their roles were. My grand-father would read the FT, probably the Racing Post too, in between nodding off and Weston knew his way around the country lanes and City streets. It was a perfect match.

In the mid-60’s my grand-father died and Weston was subsequently killed in a car accident after hitting black ice somewhere in Kent. That was that.

Fast forward to the ’80s and few new age Big Bang stockbrokers could afford chauffeurs and by then it was almost a taboo anyway even to consider it. So to use the analogy many rear seat City folk were forced to drive to work in their own cars or by whatever method available.

Often in business, in the financial world especially, it’s become imperative for those who once may have occupied the rear seat to actually drive (their businesses) with their assistants or batmen in the passenger seat (one might call them dealers or traders). This sort of scenario explains how independent brokers, investment and insurance, would operate during that period but then as computer systems got more complicated the real stars became the software personnel and the quant gang. Then came the settlements men who up till Big Bang had taken their lead from business getters like my grand-father. In fact in the financial world historically everyone took their lead from the experienced business getters who had personal liability and responsibility for their firms and staff.

Around 1960 My grand-father bailed out a client for £30,000 because a broker, a Mr Skrimshire, had made a grave error over this clients affairs. You see he had supreme integrity (and didn’t need to take an exam to prove it: TAKE NOTE Mr Sants and Ms Nicoll).

As FSA came into its own more and more back office personnel joined the ranks of the settlement people. Of course they’re called Compliance personnel, Credit Controllers and of course they are ALL referred eloquently as MIDDLE MANAGEMENT. None take any responsibility for clients, know very little about the real workings of capital markets, rarely apologise for errors and think that they can drive the businesses from the rear seat just like my grand-father. But there is a fallacy here isn’t there? Very few have any real skills about what the raw business is and despite sitting in the rear seat think they can drive the motor car by shackling people such as myself who are actually driving the revenue stream.

So many cars have now been produced that have BACK SEAT DRIVERS that any sensible government should really question the need for some of these people. I am of course referring to REGULATORS who no longer regulate the safety valves but want to instigate directives about where the driver should head. It’s got that bad folks!

Recent events at UBS are no surprise to me. There are probably thousands of similar scalps and scalpees out there in London, NYC and possibly working from home somewhere. What is interesting is that despite Nick Leeson of Barings fame, Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale (he couldn’t have done it on his own despite what the french courts concluded) and now the man from Ghana, Mr Adoboli none of the BACK SEAT DRIVERS are ever mentioned in the press reports. According to the FSA’s own web site Mr Adoboli was first registered as a Trainee CF22 Investment Adviser on 14th Match 2006 and full non-trainee CF26 Customer Trading on the same date, both licences becoming CF30 Customer on 1st November 2007.  His licence was withdrawn yesterday (so much for innocent until proved guilty), but what is really alarming is that a young man of this degree of experience could trade more than £10m a ticket. It’s clear that the experience is NOT there. By comparison my current licence for retail is also CF30 Customer which is extraordinary. How does an inexperienced SYNTHETICS TRADER at any bank get the same licence as someone such as myself with over 40,000 trades (albeit investment driven) and 36 years behind me?

God help us all if Mr Adoboli had been driving the motor car rather than acting as a passenger helping his senior colleague(s)!!!!

It seems that society has too many BACK SEAT DRIVERS and far too many people in the City driven into jobs beyond their capacity. This is the real effect of QUALIFICATION over EXPERIENCE and EDUCATION.

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