From blue-chip bank to latest Libor villain. UBS has fallen far

RELATED QUOTES

SymbolPriceChange
GS-PB24.95+0.20
RBS.L302.90+2.70
E1:J91U.SI0.73-0.005
UBRA.DE14.67+0.47

In America they talk about the Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS-PB - news) alumni who seem to move effortlessly from working for the world’s most successful investment bank to top government jobs.

In Britain, Goldman Sachs is not without its links into the country’s financial elite. Indeed, incoming Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney , once worked for the firm.

However, when it comes to establishment credentials, UBS (Xetra: UB0BL6 - news) is the bank to beat.

Take a quick glance at the bankers who have swapped their desks in the City for positions of power and you find an awful lot of people who once worked for the Swiss bank.

Lord Sassoon, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and a key economic adviser to the Conservatives , was a vice- chairman of UBS’s investment bank. Robin Budenberg, the chairman of UKFI, the body charged with managing the state’s holdings in RBS (LSE: RBS.L - news) and Lloyds, was a managing director there. Baroness Shriti Vadera, an adviser to the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was also an investment banker at UBS.

It is a dispiriting thought that this most British of Swiss banks until last year its chief financial officer was Cambridge (SES: E1:J91U.SI - news) educated John Cryan was operating a Libor-rigging operation on an industrial scale at the same time as it was advising the Government on some of the most sensitive financial decisions in recent history.

It was UBS bankers who, under the guidance of Baroness Vadera, helped to devise the bail-out plans for British banks at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

UBS has also handled several other key mandates for the British state, including the 2002 decision to replace Railtrack with Network Rail.

There is, of course, no suggestion any of this corporate finance work was at all compromised by the interest rate manipulation in the trading division. However, it hardly helps confidence in banks and bankers that even the most blue-chip of places houses rogues.

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards will publish its final report on culture and ethics in the financial sector next year. It is likely to include recommendations for addressing what its chairman, Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, has called the “orange jump suit question”.

After years of the “too big to fail” debate, the emerging issue is whether major banks are “too big to jail”.

Andrew Bailey, Britain’s top bank regulator, said earlier this month that he thought bringing criminal prosecutions against the largest banks was dangerous, given the systemic knock-on effects that a criminal indictment could bring with it.

However, if the authorities are ever to convince the public that banks have been brought to heel and are not above the law, then it is clear that at some point this Rubicon will have to be crossed.

UBS is already facing a limited criminal charge over its involvement in Libor-rigging, but with several more settlements in the offing, prosecutors may have to go well beyond this. Too big to jail? We will have to see.