Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't shoot the messenger! Financial Journal editor criticised for reporting the Shah -V- HSBC case too openly!

Sources  from inside the City are letting it be known that many bankers are very angry with the editor of Money Laundering Bulletin for his reporting of the recent case of Shah -v- HSBC. Not because it was inaccurate, but because it was altogether too truthful.
A close informant recently described to me how the reporting of the case in the prestigious and informed Journal, 'Money Laundering Bulletin', had heaped huge embarrassment on HSBC, when the actions of their Compliance Department with responsibility for preventing and forestalling money laundering, came to be minutely dissected in forensic detail by barristers acting for the claimant in the case.
The responsible officer concerned was subjected to a lengthy and searching period of cross examination, and it would not be unreasonable to say that his answers betrayed the fact that the practices and procedures applied to the systems and controls apparently in force at the time in the bank, were found to be lacking a certain degree of regulatory rigour.
The case was reported regularly by the Journal, in significant detail and much of the important questioning was reported verbatim.
Well, apparently this totally responsible attitude towards the reporting of a most important case has caused not a little disquiet among city practitioners who appear to think that to report a case in this way is not playing the game. Apparently they don't like the fact that HSBC's dirty washing was hung out for all to see, and presumably learn from!
This is so typical of the banking sector - they don't want their failures to be broadcast to the market place, presumably because it might give potential clients the right impression, that the institution concerned hasn't covered itself in glory in complying with its legal responsibilities.
However, the institutions have their own way of trying to deflect the attention from their own inadequacies. They fight back by marginalising those who have offended by snubbing them, or bringing pressure on others who might be in a position to influence the offender's conduct.
I once received a letter from some pompous City figure who resented an editorial I had written in an academic journal. He complained that my observations about endemic city fraud could only bring the city into disrepute, and demanded that I bring his letter to the attention of the financial backers of the Journal. He did so in the mistaken belief that his views would cause them to pressure me to tone down my observations in future. He was badly mistaken. I published his letter in the Journal, and invited him to write an article refuting the piece I had written, and promising to publish it as his right of reply. I never heard from him again.
But it doesn't stop the City from whining when they think they can influence outcomes they don't like.
Bob Diamond is quoted in today's Daily Telegraph saying:
“The way this situation was handled seems to us completely unwarranted. Unnecessary damage was placed on Barclays’ reputation just at a time when the focus should be rebuilding confidence and accelerating growth, not undermining it.”
Diamond was moaning about the reports which appeared in the press about Barclays' aggressive tax avoidance structuring back in February of this year.
Barclays Bank had been ordered by the Treasury to pay half-a-billion pounds in tax which it had tried to avoid. Barclays was accused by HM Revenue and Customs of designing and using two schemes that were intended to avoid substantial amounts of tax.
The government had taken the unusual step of introducing retrospective legislation to end such "aggressive tax avoidance" by financial institutions. The government had closed the schemes to retrieve £500m of lost tax and safeguard payments of billions of more tax in the future.
Barclays claimed that it had been surprised by HMRC's reaction to the two schemes, which it believed to be in line with those used by other banks. It was highly embarrassing for Barclays, because Britain's big banks have all signed a code committing them not to engage in tax avoidance.
This latest outburst by Diamond is merely par for the course when the big banks find themselves facing embarrassing situations.
If the financial institutions want to protect themselves from justified criticism by professional journals, then they can do so easily. Just obey the rules and regulations and make the money available to ensure that their staff can provide the necessary degree of compliance.
Trying to shoot the messenger just because they don't like the message, is the sign of a real loser!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why the Beecroft Report is such a deceitfully dangerous document.

Since 1968 in this country, employees have had certain rights relating to their employment and protections from being unfairly dismissed, enshrined in law. Now, a very unpleasant man called Adrian Beecroft has proposed that the Government should remove those laws.
The Beecroft report, is a controversial set of recommendations on reforming Britain’s employment laws and regulations which are stated to be “impeding” business and “exacerbating the national problem of high unemployment”. The proposals are likely to be warmly welcomed by those Tories who believe employment law brought in under the Labour government is stifling business and investment.
Business minister Mark Prisk told the House of Commons that 17 of the 23 recommendations in Mr Beecroft's report were already being put into action, while the rest were subject to consultation until June 8. Announcing the decision to publish the report, Mr Prisk told MPs: "This Government is taking positive action to reform the labour market to make sure we can get more people back to work as soon as possible."
Whether what gets enacted contains some of the earlier proposals as a moot point.
Any proposal to allow dismissal without cause is not intended to help people back to work and for Prisk to couch it in this kind of the worst language of spin, is to dissemble to the point of lying. Of course, the suggestion has been written using the language of permitting employers to get rid of lazy workers.
But that is not what will happen at all. The rule will be applied by firms who want to get rid of men and women in later middle age, when they are at the top of their incremental pay scales, and earning decent salaries, and whom the firms would love to be rid, because they could otherwise get other people to do those jobs for less money. This regulation will be used to get rid of perfectly good workers, whose face doesn't fit, or because an incoming manager wants to promote his own favourites into post.
I know what this is like because it happened to me, and being made redundant in your later fifties merely because your new manager wants to give the job you have worked for and have filled efficiently, to one of his supporters, and who wants to get rid of you as quickly and cheaply as possible, despite all the so-called HR rules and regulations, is a daunting prospect. Thankfully in my case, I was able to make use of the legislation which exists to protect workers and to sue the company for a decent settlement, but without these laws, I would have been without any recompense at all.
The original Beecroft Report urged a relaxation of British laws to allow small firms to opt out of seven different employment laws including providing pensions for their workers.  A wider move to allow flexible working for all employees from next year should also be scrapped, it recommended. It is claimed that the measures would save business billions of pounds and allow them to “grow and employ more people”. This latter statement is a huge red herring. If companies are making money by cutting labour forces, why would they bother to employ more workers. It doesn't make any economic sense, and it is not intended to, it is just a piece of dishonest blather designed to make it look like they are promoting the growth agenda.
This provision would take workers in this country back to the worst excesses of the 19th century, where workers could be fired at will, and men fought with bare knuckles at the factory gate to get a day's labour.
Of course, it might just be a mere coincidence that Beecroft realises the value locked up in a bigger group of unemployed workers who are feeling the pinch of having no money, because they represent an irresistible focus for the 'quick money lending' solution offered by Wonga.com, a loan facility in which one of Beecroft's companies holds a big stake. Company reports show that venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, a major donor to the Tory party, having handed over £593,000 since David Cameron became leader, is chairman of Dawn Capital, which has a large stock in Wonga Group. Latest accounts show the company, which is now worth £384m, was worth a mere £17m in December 2010. Perhaps not surprising when you realise that Wonga.com charges an APR rate of over 4,000% for its loans!
Returning  to the Beecroft Report, what is worse, it proposes that employers should not be responsible for the provision of pensions, so that after a lifetime's work, a worker could be kicked out of the gate without a single penny to retire on. We already know how much the private pension sector steals from private pension plans, and in any event, an occupational pension is something that the government have been encouraging all workers to invest for.
So the report recommends:
Delaying laws which will force companies to provide pensions for their workers from this autumn. The report states: “It is unclear why introducing from 2012 a measure that will costs employers £6 billion per year, individuals £7 billion per year and government £2 billion per year is sensible in the current economic climate”.
It  does not occur to this consultant bean-counter that the investment is sensible because it will assist in defraying a worker's living costs at a later stage, and what is more, the provision of a pension is a huge incentive to stay in work and continue to contribute by paying tax.
Stopping the planned spread of flexible working to allow all employees to request changes to their standard working week. It recommends a new voluntary code of conduct rather than laws.
This is because he knows that voluntary codes are always flouted and never complied with, and that without central policies, flexible working (which has been found to be very effective in other countries) will never get off the ground.
A watering down of the so-called “Tupe” rules that mean that a supplier taking over another’s firm’s contract and workers must respect the existing terms of employment for workers. This is a particular issue when private firms take over roles previously conducted by the public sector.
You bet, particularly at a time when the Government is about to hand the entire National Health Service over to the private sector, no new employer wants to have to respect existing employment terms for former NHS employees. Much easier to get rid of them and churn out the profits rather than respect their legal rights.
Of course it may be just a total coincidence that Beecroft is a Director of Healthcare At Home Ltd, which provides home healthcare services to patients in the United Kingdom. It offers a range of services, such as medication support, medication home treatment, supported hospital discharge, preventing hospital admission (sic?), end of life care, cancer services, and pharmaceutical and clinical services.
Scrapping plans for firms to introduce equal pay audits.
Can't encourage women to aspire to equality of employment rights, can we? Good God, they might want to be directors next!
Allowing larger firms to make so-called “collective redundancies where more than 100 workers are dismissed with only 30 days notice. This notice period is currently only available for smaller firms, which means that larger firms have to pay people an extra 60 days worth of wages.
Of course, why make it harder for employers to throw whole communities out of work and on the scrap-heap, destroying a source of work which in many cases is the biggest employer in the community?
This report is truly one of the most scandalous pieces of neo-con-inspired poison that has seen the light of day in many years. I can just imagine the fun that Beecroft and his satraps must have had sitting around over the chilled Chablis and smoked salmon sandwiches, deciding what regulations to scrap. This document has all the hallmarks of some typical shiny-faced, juvenile Tory special adviser's wank fantasy, but it completely fails to understand the nature of the proper relationship between the modern employer and their workforce.
But what would you expect from a man who has spent his entire life advising other people how to be more 'efficient', either as a Harvard Fellow or later as a consultant with Boston Consulting Group? This is a man who once worked for one of Britain's more inefficient computer companies, ICL, (It'll Come Later)! Since then he has specialised in the arduous task of Venture Capital, a job where you don't exactly have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, (in a physical work sense I mean), but the kind which many in this role in the City specialise in all too often.
This is a man who probably knows everything there is to know about cutting jobs and putting people out of work, all in the name of economic efficiency. If Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires carry on adopting this piece of obscenity, then they will only have themselves to blame when the unemployed take to the streets, because they have nothing else left to lose. They won't be able to blame 'sheer criminality' this time, when the flames rise and the shops are looted, and the unemployed fight pitched battles with the police in the streets, this time the fault will lie squarely at their door for decisions such as these contained in the Beecroft Report.
Even Cameron can't be this stupid!
Can he?

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Price to Pay

Those who read this blog regularly will know that I am a big exponent of locking up white-collar criminals. I believe that white-collar crime, and particularly fraud and wrong-doing in the financial sector is the biggest cause of concern to our way of life, and the losses and damage caused by the level of unmitigated greed possessed by so many financial practitioners is undermining the very fabric of our democratic society. I believe that the biggest disincentive to city criminals is the likelihood of being prosecuted for ordinary criminal offences, and treated in the same way as burglars, robbers and thieves. That in fact is what they are, except they commit their crimes in a slightly different way, albeit the damage they cause is far greater and has a far-longer lasting effect.
However, when you prosecute a city boy, you send a message to all his friends and fellow-criminals that you are really serious about your intention to keep the financial sector clean. You see, as opposed to a burglar or street thief, a successful prosecution of a city thief spells the end of his career in the financial sector, because he will never, ever get employment again in the financial milieu. Just the fact of the jury coming back with a finding of 'guilty' is the kiss of death to the city fat cat. The inner city burglar or street mugger looks upon a criminal conviction as a rite of passage, it is all part of acquiring street accreditation among his peers. Spells away in institutions are nothing more than the equivalent of time spent acquiring a post-graduate qualification in more serious crime, prisons are merely universities of crime for most crims, but you don't even need to lock up a banker or broker, the mere fact of a finding of guilt is more than enough to banish him or her to social and commercial oblivion.
So, I am all in favour of applying the same standards of social control to bankers as I am to burglars, if for no other reason than to prove that there is one law for everyone.
However, despite my enthusiasm for such treatment, and my unashamed belief in the superiority  of American methods of dealing with financial criminality, I also firmly believe that any society which seeks to impose its standards on its citizens by taking away their liberties and their ability to earn a living in their chosen way, must do so fairly, justly and by the rule of law.
The American approach to law enforcement is entirely different to the British model. In America, the law enforcer is looked upon as an iconic figure, conjuring up images of the lone sheriff in the white hat, riding into town with both six-guns blazing, rendering the streets safe for widows and children and driving the bad guys out of town. It is a scene played out in just about every Western movie of the genre, and in so many ways, Americans still see their law enforcement agencies in a not-dissimilar light. This is why America has so many such agencies, whether federal, state, city, county and town. Americans still tend to see life through Hollywood images!
Law enforcement in America is still a fairly basic and brutal function, and many judges see it as part of their role to ensure the maintenance of the status-quo. This is because in so many parts of the country the judge, the chief of police, the sheriff, marshal, call it what you will, is still a political role, and these men and women get elected, or appointed as part of the political process. If they want to get re-elected, then they reflect the views of their voters. It used to be said of Mayor Daly of Chicago back in the 1960s that the only qualification to be a Chicago cop was to be an Irish-American looking for work. This is not said to denigrate many of the superb Chicago cops I know and have known in my career, who do great work in policing their city, I merely repeat what one of my Irish-American police friends told me.
English law enforcement methods and standards are very different to those of the United States. Our laws of evidence are different, our standards of proof are much higher, we outlaw many forms of evidence gathering, wire-taps, hidden secret taping of conversations with a view to entrapment, the use of agents-provocateurs, incitement to commit criminal offences, all of which are lawful and widely-used in US cases, and we do not seek to impose our jurisdiction on US citizens who have not committed any offences in the USA.
 It is against this background of introduction that I strongly recommend the book 'A Price to Pay', written by David Bermingham, probably more infamously known as one of the 'Nat West Three'.
This book should and must be read by anyone who is concerned about the enforcement of the law within the financial sector because it contains information about the process which now exists in this country vis-v-vis its legal relationships with the United States, which make for very uncomfortable reading indeed.
David Bermingam and his colleagues were investment bankers at Nat West, prior to its absorption by the vampire squid, RBS, led at the time by the biggest vampire squid of all, Fred Goodwin, and who got involved in a series of structured financing deals with the US company Enron.
What those deals were and how they were done is described in mind-boggling detail in the book, and throughout my reading I kept on asking myself what social significance any of these entirely artificial deals existed to perform, except the making of huge sums of money which were syphoned out of the ether, and always at someone else's expense, usually the public shareholders of Enron.
I found myself sickened by the sheer wanton greed and destructive quality of some of these deals, which were structured and created entirely with a view to maximising secrecy and opacity, to generate vast paper profits which could be later realised and parked in third-party offshore jurisdictions, coupled with a major exercise in tax avoidance. The aim was to earn huge fees for Nat West, and thereby, making bigger bonuses for the creators.
Revolting and morally dubious though it all was, the vital thing to remember is that none of it was unlawful or illegal. These guys were doing nothing that no other bank in the City was doing, creating vast amounts of phantom wealth out of thin air, using the alchemy of derivatives to create structures that would subsequently unwind, paying out millions of pounds. Not one penny of it went to fund any form of social development, alleviate any suffering, build any infrastructure (except presumably the extensions to the vast houses bought by city grandees), or provide any form of valuable addition to the fabric of the societies from which the money was squeezed. It was nothing more than a vast money-go-round, which created vast wealth for a select group of insiders, and paid the banks vast fees for so doing. It was a huge self-fulfilling prophecy, and it was all perfectly legal.
Indeed, it was so legal that Tony Blair, and later Gordon Brown, in an orgy of de-regulatory zeal, actively encouraged this kind of wanton excess, in the hugely misguided belief that this kind of industry was benefiting UK plc. Well, we all know where it has ended up!
The problem for the Nat West Three is that they were dealing with Enron, the then biggest and most important employer in Houston, Texas. Led by a crook, managed by a bunch of crooks among the wider group of executives,  Enron would later go down in history as one of the biggest frauds on investors in the history of scams. It seems that apart from their everyday skulduggery ripping off their investors, many senior people in Enron were also running their own sideline scams against the company as well. It was one of these sidebar scams of which the three British bankers inadvertently became an integral part.
You will have to read the book to understand the  scope of the facts, but suffice it to say, that whether I want to admit it or not, these men committed no crime in the UK known to UK law. There were no complainants, no victims, at least none who wanted to make any complaint. They behaved throughout with a complete lack of any dishonest motive. Whether what they did was moral, decent or honourable is another matter, but we do not judge men in the criminal sphere by their lack of morals, decency or honour, and David does manage to explain the background of the City culture at the time to demonstrate why they continued with the deals when any merely half-witted, but sensible person would have said 'let's get  the fuck out of here'! And yet these three men were extradited to America and stood trial and went to prison for defrauding Nat West Bank.
Yes, you read that right, they were prosecuted in America for an offence which, even if it were half true, which it wasn't, could only have taken place in the UK. But as I have said, US law doesn't allow the matter of a few inconvenient facts to get in the way of a good prosecution. In America, being perceived as an aggressive prosecutor is one of the best ways to get ahead, and to rise in the political sphere. Many politicians start off as Assistant US Attorneys or Assistant District Attorneys, looking to make cases which will bring their name to public attention as 'ball-breaking' prosecutors. With the Enron case, with so many Houstonians out of work and facing a bleak future because of the absence of their pension funds, prosecuting someone who could even peripherally, at the very least, be said to have had something to do with the frauds at Enron, was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. The Houston prosecutors knew that and they set their sights at the Nat West Three,
None of this is surprising in the least, what is the really shocking aspect of this story is the way the British institutions, behaved. Like the FSA to whom the three men went voluntarily and told their story when they first became aware that there was a hint of fraud in the dealings at Enron. They told the FSA at the first opportunity and they told them the whole truth. The FSA merely parcelled up their evidence and sent it straight to the US authorities, and it was used as the basis of the case against them in America. The FSA clearly realised that no offence had been committed in the UK, but they like to play hugger-mugger with their regulatory mates in the US, in the hope of reciprocal information in the future, so they sold three innocent men down the river.
Institutions like RBS, who could have easily provided the evidence to prove the innocence of these three men, but who refused to help; Like the British legal establishment which bent over backwards to facilitate the US request for extradition, despite the fact that there were no reciprocal offences being alleged against the accused; like the politicians who washed their hands of them because they wanted to keep on-side with the Americans, and particularly so the Americans would continue to keep sharing intelligence material with our spook establishments; and generally how these three men were deprived of all help and comfort that they should, as British citizens have expected to receive, to fight these trumped-up and ridiculous charges.
The fact that they did not, is the true shocking story which needs to be told.
This book outlines the problems which foreigners face in confronting the US justice system if they are unfortunate enough to fall foul of its grasp. It demonstrates the ludicrous costs and expenses these men had to pay to try and clear their names, and it shows how, at the end, worn down with repeated adjournments of their trial, they were faced with the choice of pleading guilty to a crime they genuinely had not committed, simply to be able to serve a fairly short period of imprisonment which would enable them to return to their homeland in a reasonable time frame, and spend their lives with their families, rather than fight the case in court, be inevitably convicted, and spend many, many years locked up in an American institution, with no hope of parole, reconciliation or return to their loved-ones.
It is a shocking story, it is a terrifying story, and it needs to be read.
I have met and talked to David Bermingham and I believe him, I like him, and I hope in time, we will become good friends. The story of the Nat West Three is a disgrace to the concept of English justice, and the politicians who connived at this travesty should be ashamed. They won't because the words politician and shame when used together are an oxymoron, but there is work that needs to be done here to ensure that before any other person is extradited from this country at the mere bald request of the Americans, the courts need to be satisfied that they have at least allegedly committed an offence in America which our Courts would recognise and that there is credible evidence to back up the allegations. No one should be sent for trial to a foreign country when there is evidence to prove their innocence available in this country, except that the persons holding it refuse to give it up.  
We will never know what pressure was applied to RBS by the US prosecutors to with-hold the exculpatory evidence from the Nat West Three. Suffice it to say that despite personal pleas to the bank, their lawyers and even to the great vampire squid-in-chief, Fred the Shred Goodwin, at no time did RBS make any move to help their former colleagues. There is no pit in hell low enough to hold the people who made these decisions, and we can only hope that in some way they will get their come-uppance at some future time.
No, I am not going soft, and I have told David that in my view he and his colleagues were the architects of their own downfall, least of all through the daft move of speaking to the FSA in the misguided belief that telling this feeble agency the truth would be a proper way to deal with the issue. It did not occur to them that the FSA would use the information as a bargaining chip, but the moral of this episode now is 'never talk to the FSA'.
Read this truly scary book and learn its lessons. It should be a mandatory addition to the bookshelf of every CEO of every UK financial service company.
'A Price To Pay' by David Bermingham is published by Gibson Square.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flying below the radar! Or Why we are destroying initiative in this country!

I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were discussing how hard it becomes to get a job commensurate with one's skills, experience and qualifications when you are over 60.
I have been trying for over 12 months now to get a job in Anti-Money Laundering compliance, and I must have applied to well over 80+ jobs advertised by recruitment consultants (how else do you get to know what's going on?), but without any success at all. Most of them don't even bother to reply, and those that do tell me that I am over-qualified, or too experienced. I have now learned that this is shorthand for 'you are too fucking old', except of course they are not supposed to say the 'O' word.
Anyway, I was asking my friend who is a very experienced City character, whether I was not presenting my cv properly, was I not making the most of my skills and experience?
'On the contrary' he said. 'You have a cv which would frighten any City recruiter to death'.
I was very surprised, indeed, and not a little shocked.
'You've done things', he explained. 'When you were a detective, you arrested bad people and put them in prison. When you were a regulator, you sought to keep the real crooks out of the financial sector. You've worked with foreign investigative agencies, you have studied with foreign regulators, you have advanced degrees in financial crime management and interdiction, and you have written books on the topic. You have edited journals, you have spoken at international conferences, you're on Google and Yahoo, you know stuff!
I asked him 'But isn't that what all recruiters want, don't they keep insisting that the applicant has to have all these skills and knowledge?'
He looked at me with a kind of benign pity.
'Don't be stupid, no City bank, financial institution or regulatory agency wants someone like you in their compliance department. In a way those worthless recruiters are telling you the truth, you've got real experience, you're a leader and you know how to do things. And nobody wants that kind of experience in their office. You attract attention, people are interested in what you do and what you know. No bank wants a personality in their compliance division, because they don't want to have any attention paid to them. They want bland, boring, ersatz, vanilla, beige, but they don't want anyone who will actually want to do anything. You don't have to do anything to be a successful compliance officer in the vast majority of banks, just shuffle the paper, tick the boxes, don't make waves, don't fuck up, and keep your head down below the horizon. Your problem is that you don't know how to fly below the radar.'
After he had gone, I thought about his words, and I quickly came to the belated realisation that he was right, particularly about my personality. I started to review the situation more generally and I quickly realised that the leitmotif for our times is to be 'anonymous, grey, and unaccountable'. No-one wants to do anything remotely unusual, no-one wants to take responsibility for their actions, no-one wants to accept liability for their cock-ups. When was the last time you saw a politician resign because his department had screwed up badly, making him look foolish and not in control of his brief?
I started to think about smaller issues. Our local Park User Group badly needs a new Chair, I have done the job for too long, and it needs new blood and new ideas. The role involves chairing 3-4 meetings a year and liaising with the local authorities from time to time. It is not a time-consuming role, but can we find someone who will accept the challenge? No way, the people are happy to use the Park and its fantastic facilities, but no-one wants to step up and say 'I'll take on this simple role'. They all claim they are too busy, that they have too many demands on their time. I suspect that the real reason is that none of them know how to manage a meeting, how to speak in public, how to control a simple debate, and are too frightened to try, because they don't have the skills, and don't want to learn.
It's the same in business. Anyone who has ever worked for an American corporation knows that the way to get along in the corporate sphere, is to agree with everything the boss wants, and the boss, by definition, is the person above you. It is now the same in the UK, both in business and the Civil Service,  no-one wants to hear unusual ideas, no-one is interested in innovation, initiative, or out-of-the-box thinking, and no-one produces any, because they are all too frightened about what the person above them in the food-chain might think. In the financial regulatory sphere, it's not a good idea to do anything too dynamic about putting some bad guy out of business, because you will almost certainly get into trouble.
That's why our criminogenic banks get away with so much wrong-doing. They employ people who won't challenge the status-quo. They employ them young, pay them a salary well in excess of anything they could get elsewhere, and then, like the Devil when he tempted Jesus, they show the young employee all the financial benefits and bonuses he or she can realise, as long as they toe the line, don't rock the boat, do as they are told and never do anything to attract publicity or bring the bank to public notice.
When I was a youngster at school, we were always being told to show initiative, to think for ourselves, to demonstrate independence of thought and to be able to back it up with reasoned evidence if challenged, which we were, all the time. I can remember periods where someone would say something challenging, but then would not be able to support the argument with reason and rationality and evidence. He would be shot down in flames by both master and the rest of the class. It taught you to be focused, and to get your facts right, and to use logic.
As a probationer police constable, we were taught that the first job of the policeman at any scene of public disturbance or anything out of the ordinary, was to take control of the situation, and to be the person to whom the other persons present looked to for a lead. We were expected to engage in exercises where the instructors would play the bad-guy roles, and while we hapless recruits were trying to instil order, the other instructors would be screaming in our ears and faces, 'take control, officer, get a grip, assert your authority.'
From this background and training, I have found it easy to form my own point of view, to rationalise my thoughts, to be comfortable in my beliefs, and to be willing to step up and provide an opinion if asked for one. In my own writing, I have no qualm in saying what I think and what I believe, and I don't give a damn what anyone else thinks of my ideas or point of view, and I am only too delighted if they want to take the chance to take me to task, and counter my arguments with ideas of their own, because this is how a democracy works.
The fact is that very few people do or are willing to do so, and that causes me huge concern.
I think it explains why there is such a dearth of new thinking in business generally, because no-one is encouraged to think laterally, or to come up with ideas or use their initiative. I think young people particularly are so frightened about losing the job they have so painstakingly sought for, that they have decided it is better to be a cipher, rather than bring yourself to notice. Some have called the culture which encourages this lack of enterprise 'the tall poppy' syndrome , meaning that any poppy which grows higher than any other is to be chopped down, because no-one wants a tall poppy. They want them all the same size, all the same shape, all the same colour. It is much easier to control people when they all look, think and behave the same, individuals who stand out above the rest are the problem. That is why kids at some Primary Schools are not permitted to engage in competitive games, because someone might win, and our modern society does not want to identify winners!
I think this is very sad. I also think it is bad for business generally. I further think it explains why so many bad things are taking place within our discredited banking system, because no-one has the initiative or the willingness to put themselves forward and say 'this is wrong' when they see wrong-doing or outright criminality being proposed.
I used to work for a major US company at a time when  things were not going well for them. At the end of one particular quarter, one of the senior directors came round and offered inducements to all the sales teams to write 'ghost' business, which management wouldn't chase too obviously in the following quarter, but it would make the quarter's figures look good, and keep the financial analysts off their case. I pointed out that this was a criminal offence under both the Companies Act and the Theft Act, and that I would not be instructing my team to adopt this practice.
Two months later I was made redundant!
So, I guess the message in financial compliance is, walk softly, don't make waves, push the papers around, tick all the boxes, don't fuck up, and be a safe pair of hands, and whatever you do, don't fly above the radar!
As Tom Paxton once said, 'there is safety in obscurity'.