JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Why it never works to shoot the messenger 


Three days ago, a financial bigwig called for the fourth estate to publish more ‘good news’ pension stories, in turn accusing it (journalists like me) of undermining trust and confidence.

You will probably never have heard of the pension guru in question unless you work for – or are a client of – Lane Clark & Peacock where he is senior partner. But for his sins, Bob Scott (a relative nobody compared to TSB boss Paul Pester – see below) is chair of something called the Association of Consulting Actuaries. Enough said.

His comments were a little disingenuous given that the main job of financial reporters is as messengers of news. After all, it is not us who break pension promises or run massive, unrecoverable pension deficits while paying shareholders a lucrative stream of dividend income. Scott is guilty of shooting the messenger.

TSB boss Paul Pester  last Wednesday  said he would  be forgoing a £2million bonus

TSB boss Paul Pester  last Wednesday  said he would  be forgoing a £2million bonus

TSB boss Paul Pester last Wednesday said he would  be forgoing a £2million bonus

Yet, before I launch into dastardly Pester, I am going to appease Scott by highlighting some ‘good’ pension news. A ban on pension cold-calling, a scourge of our time as our three-page special report today highlights, is at last being introduced. I say: ‘Hip hip hooray.’ Happy now, Mr Scott?

Although it took an ear-bashing at the hands of the Treasury Select Committee to force him to show his hand, TSB boss Paul Pester did the honourable thing last Wednesday and said he would, after all, be forgoing a £2million bonus.

It is a move we called for last Sunday and it is the only decision he (with a hefty nudge from the board) could have made given the shambolic bank he is currently presiding over.

A bank whose reputation has now been blown to smithereens as a result of an IT meltdown that has left many customers with no access to their accounts, direct debits not processed and some business owners left with no choice but to use personal money banked elsewhere to pay staff. Despite assurances to the contrary, the bank is still malfunctioning and not fit for purpose.

After watching Pester unconvincingly bluster his way through the Committee’s two-hour grilling (hats off to chairman Nicky Morgan for making him squeal like a hyena), a number of lingering thoughts were crystallised. 

Firstly, is it right that the boss of a company who last year received remuneration totalling £1.75million (£3.72million in 2016) could have received a seven-figure bonus if the IT migration had gone hunky dory? But then forgo nothing, other than his anticipated bonus, when the computer systems changeover went horribly awry? Of course it is wrong. He should have his basic pay docked for the mess created under his watch.

Secondly, while Pester will not receive his £2million bonus, it does not rule him out of receiving other bonuses – a fact confirmed last Wednesday – for his performance this year in overseeing other aspects of the business’s operations. 

If this happens – I can only assume it would occur if part of his bonus were related to the number of crass remarks he makes – it would be nothing short of outrageous. Pester should suffer, just like his customers.

Thirdly, until TSB’s computers blew up, Pester had ridden the crest of a wave, enjoying mountains of favourable press coverage for being boss of a challenger bank – an operation that he claimed was streets ahead of the traditional banks in terms of service and treating customers fairly. He had TSB soundbites for every occasion.

But the ‘game’ has now changed. TSB does not need someone at its helm that can come up with off-the-cuff quips – as he did on Wednesday when he made light of the fact that two of Morgan’s staff could not log on to their TSB accounts by saying: ‘It’s nice to know we have so many customers in the room – thanks very much for using TSB.’ Instead, it requires someone who, with dignity and calmness, can slowly restore TSB’s tarnished brand.

Given Pester’s love of triathlons, surely it would be better for both him and TSB customers if he jumped ship and spent the summer competing – Bloodwise Blenheim Palace, June 2 and 3; and BananaMan, June 30, come highly recommended.

As for TSB customers left distraught by this banking debacle, I would seek maximum compensation for the disruption it has caused and then run for the hills. There are plenty of rivals out there which would be happy for your business – and have in situ computer systems built to last.



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