Bankers’ ball binned, a step towards appeasement?

November 20, 2008

The storm raging through financial markets has already cost bankers much of their business, bonuses and public esteem. But now they won’t even be able to drown their sorrows in their usual glass of bubbly at one of the most cherished events in Frankfurt’s social calendar.

The glitzy, champagne-laden black-tie gala that usually closes Frankfurt’s annual Euro Finance Week and hosts the VIPs of Europe’s banking and insurance industry, has been cancelled.

Top German banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank concluded that such a show of opulence was not “suitable for the times”, writes Spiegel magazine.

“The reason was the financial crisis, it (holding the ball) just wasn’t right,” a Commerzbank spokesman told Reuters.

The banks however failed to burnish their responsible credentials and win over public opinion through this act of self-denial, by incurring nonetheless up to 700,000 euros of planning costs for the cancelled event, according to media reports. The Commerzbank spokesman said the specific sum to be paid up had not yet been decided upon.

Whatever the actual amount, this is a tiny expense in view of current write-downs, but an added one-off charge nonetheless.

The German media seized upon this expense, deemed excessive in view of current bank write-downs and bailout plans. A headline of Germany’s widely-circulated newspaper Bild read: “Banks donate 700,000 euros … to the organiser”.

The German banking community has a long way to go to appease the wrath and the outrage of the general public, and this is especially visible in Germany’s banking capital, Frankfurt.

A taxi driver recently nearly missed my stop, too busy railing about those lazy traders who spend their days speculating and making money out of thin air.

When I let slip to my doctor I was a financial journalist, he spent 20 minutes ranting about the way banks have gambled on the back of other citizens, who had to pay for their mistakes with their taxes. Instead of medicine, I was sent away with an article on bankers’ bonuses.

And the anger is also to be seen in organised protests. Anti-market activists last month entered the Frankfurt Stock Exchange by stealth, shouting slogans and waving banners denouncing financial markets.

So, maybe the cancellation of Frankfurt’s “Bankenball” will contribute to appeasing an angry public —  but a pointer for next time might be to do it before potentially incurring hundreds of thousands of euros in planning costs.

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