When be­ing greedy is what you’re paid for

CityPress - - Voices -

No one likes banks, and there are many ex­cel­lent rea­sons for that. Banks in South Africa have, how­ever, be­come the tar­get of a spe­cial vitriol tied to a very spe­cific po­lit­i­cal project – un­re­lated to the real prob­lems they present to the pub­lic through over-con­cen­tra­tion and, it seems, col­lu­sion.

You may very well agree that the Big Four (among other banks) have con­spired against Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s friends to serve white busi­ness. You may also be­lieve that Absa owes us an apartheid-era debt.

On the other hand, you might be in the camp that be­lieves the South African bank­ing sys­tem is nearly the only thing we have been able to get right eco­nom­i­cally.

Right now, we all have to be care­ful not to con­flate these be­liefs with what we will learn as the Com­pe­ti­tion Tri­bunal’s hear­ing of its lat­est case drags on.

The seem­ingly well-grounded al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion be­tween cur­rency traders at lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional banks will not be re­solved soon.

Codes of con­duct will get drafted and, more likely than not, a set­tle­ment of some sort will be signed to avoid ri­val econ­o­mists at the tri­bunal ar­gu­ing about the na­ture of for­eign ex­change mar­kets for decades to come.

Big num­bers will be thrown around and dis­puted, but the out­come that mat­ters is fix­ing the prob­lem at its root.

Col­lu­sion is wrong, pe­riod. The al­le­ga­tions re­vealed this week un­der­score the fact that the im­per­sonal mar­kets that some be­lieve have mag­i­cal virtues are ac­tu­ally made up of men and women who have no mag­i­cal virtues.

Al­ready, banks are blam­ing the in­di­vid­ual traders in­volved. But the traders have done ex­actly what they have been paid – hand­somely – to do by chas­ing mil­lion-rand bonuses.

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