This film is largely set in the boardroom of an unnamed bank at the start of the 2008 banking fiasco. A junior employee, at the behest of his newly sacked line manager, investigates some numbers on a computer file. The numbers do not add up. Volatility Margin Limits – figures used in risk assessment - have been regularly breached by the bank’s activities in the previous weeks, if not for longer. A crisis ensues. Heads fall – well, some heads fall – as the bankers get their knickers in a twist. A Fire Sale is the strategy it adopts as a sort of damage limitation exercise and so the bank dumps whatever it is it dumps onto the stock market…….. or something.
And that “something” is one of the problems with this film. I came away feeling that I had gained no insight whatsoever into the banking business. Not surprising, since bankers and other people working in the financial sector do not want us ordinary folks to know what shenanigans they get up to anyway. In that regard, the film “Rogue Trader” (Ewan McGregor) was much more informative. But then again, the book upon which it was based was written by disgraced trader Nick Leeson while he was in prison.
The film boasts a good cast e.g. Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and others. They must have been paid a lot of money just to sit around looking glum or serious. Indeed, they often warned the viewer that “things were going to get worse, much worse” (can’t remember the exact quote), only they didn’t. At least, not in the film.
I remember former UK Chancellor and PM Gordon Brown also wore one of those serious faces. He also used the word “serious” a lot in his speeches as his lot are prone to do. They seem to think that gravitas makes them look like people with substance and depth. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are gamblers. Worse. They are just a bunch of lads, and, increasingly, ladettes, who get off on handling huge amounts of money. Indeed, I had a colleague who was one of those lads. He managed the school budget. He got promotion higher up in education where instead of managing a mere few thousands of £s, he was put in charge of a budget of £5,000,000. Whenever he mentioned the sum of £5,000,000, which he did frequently, I could swear the crotch of his trousers started to bulge. He and I had had a troubled working relationship. This precisely because he was such a lad, playing all his idiot laddish games and making my working life even worse than it already was. Not long before he took up his new position, he overplayed his hand with me once too often. The matter was taken to my boss (though not by me). Our boss held a meeting. This meeting turned out to be an opportunity for me to put this lad in his place. I did. With knobs on. I still remember how I wiped the cocky smile off that man’s face. After the meeting, he walked around like a man shellshocked. It is a memory I still relish. My point here is that this is the sort of person who is managing banks and other financial institutions. Doesn’t that make you feel safer already?
These lads’ games can make or break ordinary folks who suddenly find themselves without a home or a bank balance. Indeed, I myself was affected by their nonsense. At the time this film was set, I had decided to cast my fate to the wind and pack in my job, and career, as a teacher. (Fed up with the abuse meted out to me as an employee, by resigning I was thumbing my nose at my employers. Very satisfying.) Anticipating this step, I saved up hard for several years before finally resigning. In addition, I downgraded into a very small house, and the remaining capital from the sale of my old house was added to my savings. I intended to live off those savings for as long as possible. In those days one still got interest from savings lodged with the bank. The then expected levels of interest were factored into my calculations when I was working out how long my money might last. (To make the money last, I was prepared to, and did, live in poverty for over a decade. By “poverty”, I mean a no fridge, no cooker, no washing machine, no TV, no internet etc. level of poverty.) Only a couple of months after I had started my new life, interest rates dropped dramatically. I was getting pennies in interest whereas before I had been getting pounds. Under my particular circumstances, it was a substantial amount of money to lose. But what annoyed me the most, and what still annoys me, is that banks make out that it is they who are doing us the favour when they lodge our money.
In fact, what people with bank accounts are really doing is lending the bank their money. When a bank lends you or I money, it exacts a hefty price e.g. interest payments on a mortgage. Yet when you or I lend the bank our money, it does its damnedest to inveigle its way out of paying us anything at all. And that is what banks finally did, using such crises, using their own bad management, as an excuse. They have stopped paying us for lending them our money. Banks have been getting away with this sort of thing for so long now, that people forget that it is they who are lending the bank money, and that it is us to whom the banks are responsible for their existence. So secure are banks that their con has worked – which it largely has – that they not only pay us next to no interest, but they make it harder and harder for us to get at our money. My local bank branch has closed and the next nearest is an 18 mile round trip away. Being the soul of generosity that it is, the bank does send a bank van our way twice a week. I love queuing up in the wind and rain to use the bank van. In this way, by reducing interest payments and cutting down the number of properties the bank has to maintain, the bank increases its profits enormously. Of which we see barely a penny.
In truth, the financial sector is responsible for the high cost of living. Its job is to keep the prices of commodities high to increase profits. If there was no financial sector, the cost of living would plummet.