ALEX BRUMMER: Antonio Horta-Osorio’s double fault

Antonio’s double fault: Banking boss’s Wimbledon blunder should come as no surprise, says ALEX BRUMMER

As a banking executive for the crisis era, Antonio Horta-Osorio has a terrific record. At Lloyds he changed the funding model by fireproofing an unstable balance sheet. 

He lifted the yoke of government shareholding and faced up to the hugely costly legacy of payment protection insurance.

All of this looked the ideal CV for a new chairman of Credit Suisse. The Zurich bank needed a safe pair of hands following the departure of chief executive Tidjane Thiam in 2020 after an espionage scandal.

Banking executive Antonio Horta-Osorio was found to have breached Covid-19 laws when he attended Wimbledon in July 2021 and failed to observe the ten-day quarantine

The bank also was troubled by reputational damage as a result of involvement in the Greensill meltdown and a £3.5billion hit from the collapse of US hedge fund Archegos. 

However, when it engaged Horta-Osorio, it might have been wise to consider the grandeur in which the banker held himself.

In a period of UK austerity and branch closures the chief executive collected £60million in pay and options from Lloyds.

He embarrassed colleagues and created problems for his then astringent chairman Lord Blackwell when it was disclosed that he had enjoyed trips and dinners at a ‘banking’ conference in Singapore with academic Dr Wendy Piatt in 2016.

She stepped down from her job. But after a review of Horta-Osorio’s expenses and the circumstances of the trip by Blackwell, the frisky banker survived.

His liking for the finer things in life such as the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar, taking his wife Ana to the Chelsea Flower Show and playing tennis at the exclusive Queen’s Club in Kensington also were well known.

So it should come as no great surprise that a probe by Credit Suisse found that Horta-Osorio breached Covid-19 laws when he attended Wimbledon in July 2021 and failed to observe the ten-day quarantine.

There is nothing unusual about top executives hosting clients at Wimbledon but failure to follow the appropriate pandemic procedures is punishable by fines and imprisonments. 

Exceptions have been carved out in the pandemic for vital business trips, and many top financial figures have made use of private jets, avoiding the complications of commercial travel.

Horta-Osorio is a survivor because of his considerable skills. But alleged breaches of Covid procedures show a contempt for the rules affecting ordinary citizens in the UK and Switzerland, for which some public officials have paid a heavy price.

The board of Credit Suisse, which includes City grandees Richard Meddings and Blythe Masters, needs to be tough.

Atlantic storm

The game, set and match to prosecutors in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial will not make for comfortable reading for the Wall Street figures who maintained close relations with Jeffrey Epstein.

It was less than two months ago that Barclays chief executive Jes Staley, who bolstered the lender’s investment banking credentials, resigned following a Financial Conduct Authority inquiry into his relationship with Epstein, after UK authorities were handed documents by US counterparts.

Staley has vowed to fight allegations that raised questions about his conduct. It was subsequently revealed that Staley exchanged 1,200 emails with Epstein from 2008 to 2012 when he was working for JP Morgan Chase. Among them were emails using the unexplained phrase ‘snow white’.

Epstein is causing ripples from beyond the grave in the manner of rogue British tycoon Robert Maxwell.

Cheer up!

The year 2022 is going to be tricky for British consumers facing a triple whammy of soaring energy bills, a 1.25 per cent point rise in national insurance contributions and higher borrowing costs after the bank rate rise to 0.25 per cent.

Before buying into this despair it is worth recalling what is going well. The IMF, OECD and economists of Goldman Sachs project that the UK will be among the fastest-growing advanced economies next year.

Home owners will be comforted by the fact that house prices grew in 2021 by 10.4 per cent, the biggest increase since 2006.

Those invested in the stock market either directly or through pensions and ISAs have been rewarded as the FTSE 100 clawed back almost all its Covid losses, and gained 15 per cent. 

Many households sit on a savings cushion valued at more than £200billion.

A healthy and prosperous 2022 to all our readers and may you invest well in Britain’s future.