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Fiddling whilst Rome burns

Waking up on day three of SIBOS, I feel a little more positive than I did yesterday. 

After all, it’s not raining, just cloudy, and the bus to the convention centre was a short 20 minute ride, unlike yesterday’s 45 minute jam.

Last night was strange though. 

After a nice dinner, I went to a nightclub for a short while and then a final snifter back at the hotel with good friends.  During the course of the day and evening however, I could not help get this feeling of a cloud overhead.  Not a cloud in the sky, but a big, black cloud over SIBOS.

The reaon being that here we all are, trying to do good business in our transactions and payments world, whilst the banking system burns around us.

A little like the image of  the Emperor Nero playing the violin whilst Rome burnt around him, I wondered whether the bank executives here were feeling the same way.

This feeling obviously was generated by the implosion of US banking this week, but also the news of HBOS and other banks being targeted by short sellers in the equities markets. 

There may have been 8,000 people here on Monday, but that number seemed a little less yesterday as key executives fled back to their home offices to sort out the issues with their stakeholders, and the knock-on effect of this crisis. 

You also have the sight of some bank brands that have a presence here at SIBOS, but you wonder about them and their long-term viability.  No names mentioned.

And then there’s  the opening plenary vignettes in the conference, which is all about the crisis with the phrase "it’s payback time" ringing in our ears.

Many of the sessions themselves are about "what happened?", "how did we get here?", "what have we learnt?" and "what are we going to do?"

But I’m not a pessimist.  This market is resilient and there are many strong players out there.  For example, the Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday pointing to the winners in this crisis, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Deutsche Bank and more.  That’s why Wells Fargo’s share price was bouncing upwards whilst many others tanked yesterday.

That’s the nature of a crisis.  For some, it means death; for others, it means success.

There are banks buying cheap assets and competitors, and there will be many more.

This morning, for example, I had a chat with a colleague from an American bank who said: "we’re just watching the share prices of A, B and C.  When they’re cheap enough, we’ll buy ’em".

So maybe that’s a good reason for SIBOS to be a party this year. 

A party of rememberance for lost colleagues and friends, and a party of celebration for those who have the capital to survive and prosper.

Meantime, I’m off to join a string quartet with some guys from the securities markets.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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