Shamed British bank bosses seek solace in science and cricket

LONDON, April 12 Fri Apr 12, 2013 5:49am EDT

LONDON, April 12 (Reuters) - Say sorry, give back some of the money and become an adviser. Playing cricket and keeping a low profile also seem to help.

These appear to be the best routes to rehabilitation or at least a more peaceful life for bankers in Britain blamed and shamed for bringing their companies to their knees.

Matt Ridley, disgraced in 2007 as the former chairman of collapsed bank Northern Rock, has returned to a successful career as a science writer.

In his 2010 book "The Rational Optimist", Ridley argued that by working together humans are wealthier, healthier, happier and more peaceful than ever before.

That did not appear to be the case in October 2007, when Ridley, now 55, turned his back on finance after Northern Rock needed emergency funds, resigning three days after a humiliating grilling by members of parliament who exposed his lack of banking knowledge.

Even though he had sat on Northern Rock's board for 13 years, following his father, the aristocratic Viscount Ridley was better known as an author whose books have sold in their hundreds of thousands.

It is not proving so easy for others to shake off their past in the banking crisis, however, especially given the level of public distaste for a profession widely held to be guilty of badly damaging the economy and continuing to act with unwarranted arrogance.

Former HBOS chief executive James Crosby this week gave up his knighthood -- awarded for services to the financial industry -- and nearly a third of his pension after a scathing report from a parliamentary committee that denounced the bank's former bosses for a "colossal failure" of management.

Politicians have called for more disgraced bankers to follow Crosby's example and hand back some of their pensions, or to be banned from ever working in financial services again.

Andy Hornby, who replaced Crosby as HBOS chief executive in 2006 and has a pension from the bank worth 240,000 pounds ($370,000) a year when he retires, returned to his roots in the retail sector after the collapse of HBOS.

He has run two major companies, both owned by private equity firms, which typically attract less attention, and is currently chief executive of bookmaking chain Coral, which this week backed him and said he is doing a good job.

Dennis Stevenson, the former HBOS chairman also blamed for the bank's demise, was made a life peer in 1999. He can fall back on his duties in Britain's upper chamber of parliament, the House of Lords.

The bosses of other British banks that hit trouble in 2007 and 2008 have had mixed fortunes, but almost all have kept a low profile.

Former bankers contacted by Reuters for this article refused to speak on the record, indicating perhaps a recognition that rehabilitation may require a period of silence on their part.

VILLAGE CRICKET

Playing village cricket was a release for Adam Applegarth when he was vilified as the architect of Northern Rock's disastrous lending binge and collapse.

Applegarth was hired as an adviser by U.S. private equity firm Apollo Management in 2009. He set up a property management business near his home in Newcastle, northern England, according to media reports at the time.

Former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin is also rarely seen after becoming the lightning rod for "banker bashing" after walking away with a big pension. While he was in exile in France, his Edinburgh home was vandalized.

In 2009 Goodwin agreed to cut his pension to 342,500 pounds a year from more than 700,000 pounds, but that did little to take the sting from criticism and in January last year Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood, which had been awarded for services to banking.

Architecture firm RMJM appointed Goodwin an adviser in 2010, but politicians urged public bodies to shun the firm.

Tom McKillop, the former boss of AstraZeneca, was chairman of RBS when the bank got into trouble and was also forced to step down as a director of BP as criticism built that he was a scientist with no banking qualifications and had not stood up to Goodwin.

Goodwin and McKillop show another risk former executives face -- they were last week sued by shareholders for losses the investors claim they incurred when RBS needed rescuing.

Johnny Cameron, RBS's former investment banking chief, was banned in May 2010 by the financial regulator from taking a significant job in the City, but later that year he was allowed to take on a part-time advisory role at corporate finance boutique Gleacher Shacklock. Cameron said his ban was "appropriate" for his role in RBS's crisis.

CONTACTS AND EXPERIENCE

Eric Daniels, who stepped down as chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group in 2011, has also gone down the adviser route, taking on roles with buyout group CVC Capital Partners and investment banking boutique StormHarbour.

Firms says former executives can offer contacts and experience and are free from management responsibilities.

Lloyds has been urged to claw back some of Daniels' bonuses amid mounting losses related to his takeover of HBOS in 2009 and compensation for customers mis-sold insurance in the past.

Politicians last year said former chairman Victor Blank should be stripped of his knighthood. But Blank's honour was awarded in 1999, long before his period as Lloyds chairman between 2006 and 2009.

Blank is the patron of numerous charities and has said that in order to rebuild trust the financial sector needs to give more. The highlight of his fundraising is an annual cricket match at his Oxfordshire manor house that is estimated to raise 250,000 pounds a year.

Among senior executives at smaller lenders Bradford & Bingley (B&B) and Alliance & Leicester (A&L) in the run up to their problems in 2008, former B&B CEO Steven Crawshaw became chairman of the advisory board of Bradford University School of Management and A&L CEO David Bennett is chairman of Homeserve Membership Ltd, part of British home emergency services firm Homeserve.

One man has found work clearing up the mess. Richard Pym, who left A&L in July 2007 after five years as chief executive, is now chairman of UK Asset Resolution, the state's holding company running down the loans of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

A former banker, who declined to be named, said putting all the blame on individuals missed the bigger picture.

"There's still too much attempt to believe it was all down to individual wrongdoing ... as opposed to systemic mispricing of money and risk," he said.

Others disagree. Members of the parliamentary commission which looked into the demise of HBOS said this week that regulators must impose tougher sanctions on those who run failed banks, making them personally responsible for their actions.