The collapse of Anglo, the Maple Ten, the rigging of annual reports to inflate a bank’s assets by 7.2 billion in order to look good to investors, regulators and the stock market – these are all events that I lived through, but can’t say I totally understood when they occurred.
I’m not going to summarise the Irish banking crisis, but a short overview might be that when the global economic downturn hit, Ireland suffered badly due to the economy’s over-reliance on construction, complicated massively by our banks’ attitudes to bad debts, leverage and property. Suffice it to say that it was disastrous, and there seemed always to be another Anglo shock, with the State pouring billions after billions into Anglo, keeping thinking “at least that’s solved now” and then another level of debt and loss would be revealed.
The book was based on a series of interviews with Sean Fitzpatrick, former CEO and chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, and one of its key leaders for over twenty years. The authors do a great job of explaining the complicated financial arrangements which took place, how Anglo differed from good practice, and how a culture and too much success can take over and destroy all logic. I really enjoyed the insights to a deluded man who didn’t seem to realise why his actions might be wrong, who kept justifying himself with “everyone was doing it” or “they were just jealous of our success”. This man seeks to portray himself as perfectly normal, just smart, and the kind of guy you could happily go for a pint with. But when the Anglo crisis has had such painful ramifications, with such economic pain, it’s hard to read the chatter about how nice his neighbours were when he was arrested and the guard who made him tea while he was being questioned and not recall how the country bayed for his blood at that time. His frantic scrambling to save a bank without caring about the impact on anyone else is edifying, and disquieting.
This book was hugely controversial when it first came out, as it was full of information which it was considered could be prejudicial to future court cases. Now it feels like a snappy read through a seedy and unpleasant past which still stifles today. I’m hoping that I don’t see something like this again, but now feel more like I know what to watch for..