Ireland’s bank CEOs play to their audiences
The scale of the banking crisis in Ireland has made those banks’ leaders into national figures. There is often a theatrical element to Irish public life and the bank CEOs are convincing actors.
Richie Boucher, CEO of Bank of Ireland, has a reputation as a direct, no-nonsense operator. He has won respect in the financial community, but his tough style, longevity at the top and even his southern African accent have made him a controversial figure in the Irish media. “Staff recognise him as the best banker in the country,” says a local source. “He’s an easy target because he’s foreign and blunt,” says another.
A well-known aversion to mortgage write-downs, in particular, has drawn a degree of popular criticism. Despite some genuinely harsh circumstances, Boucher’s relatively hard stance may have been appropriate, says a local economist, as the crisis led to a rash of strategic defaults: “There has been an element of gamesmanship with the fact that the banks have been bailed out.”
Some politicians and activists have tried to draw parallels between the imposition of austerity by the EU and IMF and the land repossessions of the 19th century. Boucher has been at the centre of this tension. After a protracted repossession battle, former property developer Brian O’Donnell interrupted the bank’s AGM last April and personally delivered the keys of his mansion to Boucher.