Could there be a greater corporate disaster in British history than the humbling of the Royal Bank of Scotland? Without £20bn of taxpayer support, the bank, with assets of £1.7 trillion, more than Britain's GDP, would now be bankrupt. Its mutation from bank to de facto giant hedge fund, cheerleader for casino capitalism with a portfolio of £500bn in derivatives and £100bn of takeovers in its wake, perfectly sums up our times.Blaming RBS for failure to perform due diligence on Madoff's ponzi scheme is perhaps unfair, as RBS inherited involvement with Madoff when it acquired ABN Amro (see here). It is the latter which failed to undertake the due diligence test.
The financial wreckage it has induced explains why the wider economy is in such trouble. There were many other asinine banks, but RBS was leader of the pack. News that it had lent the hedge funds of the now disgraced American fraudster Bernie Madoff £400m with insufficient due diligence was symptomatic of the failure of every aspect of RBS's corporate strategy.
Sir Fred Goodwin, the now deposed CEO, and his team should be asked hard questions by both shareholders and the police. So should the outgoing management at sister Scottish bank HBOS, whose incompetence rivals Goodwin's. The former RBS chief has rightly been dubbed the world's worst banker by Slate magazine's Daniel Gross.
(You may nevertheless wish to blame Sir Fred for the (arguably much greater) sin of proceeding - at the top of the market - with the acquisition of ABN Amro. But that is a different argument.)