LONDON (Reuters) - Banks must accept responsibility for past mistakes and show how they can contribute to society and economic growth or they could face more public unrest, the boss of one of Britain’s top banks said on Thursday.
Bob Diamond, who took over as chief executive of Barclays (BARC.L) at the start of the year, said banks need to once again earn public trust and adopt broader objectives and responsibilities as the industry comes back under fire from an angry public.
“The threat of further social unrest remains if we don’t work together to generate stronger economic growth and more jobs,” Diamond said.
Speaking at a BBC business lecture, Diamond said: “We have to build a better understanding of how businesses and banks work together to generate economic growth. Frankly, banks have done a very poor job of explaining how we contribute to society.
“Second, we have to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong,” he said.
His comments came as anti-capitalism protests continued in New York, London and dozens of cities around the world, showing that many people are angry over excesses shown by bankers.
Protesters are upset that billions of dollars and pounds in bank bailouts doled out during the financial crisis have allowed banks to resume big payouts to staff, while thousands of people lose their jobs as economies skid back toward recession amid the euro zone debt crisis.
In London, the protesters have set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the financial district, and the row has drawn in politicians, business leaders and religious groups.
Diamond is one of Europe’s best paid bankers, and was criticized in January when he said banks should stop apologizing for mistakes made in the past, telling a panel of lawmakers “the period of remorse” should end.
Diamond has made “citizenship” one of his four strategic priorities, and said he probably would not have done so five years ago.
“Over time we will judge the success of businesses, including banks, on the basis of broader measures and values,” he said. But he acknowledged that the public would be sceptical of change until it has seen it in evidence.
UK taxpayers had to step in to bail out banks during the global financial crisis, pumping billions of pounds into Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and Lloyds (LLOY.L). Barclays did not take any direct capital, but all banks were aided by extensive funding support during the crisis. (Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)