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Opinion

When conduct goes wrong, who do you blame?

If Credit Suisse's board felt able to fire a chief executive who was not personally involved in spying, how will Barclays respond if its own CEO falls foul of a personal regulatory probe?

Where does the buck stop? The tribulations surrounding two bank chief executives one just departed, the other still in post – bring this perennial question to the fore again.

On the face of it, there is clear blue water between the situation at Credit Suisse, where Tidjane Thiam has just been relieved of his chief executive role, and at Barclays, where CEO Jes Staley is the subject of his second regulatory probe.

tidjane-thiam_2018_160x186

Tidjane Thiam

Thiam was publicly exonerated – by none other than chairman Urs Rohner – of any personal involvement in spying on Credit Suisse employees. But the board determined that the buck nonetheless stopped with him. With no change of strategy emerging under new CEO Thomas Gottstein, and the board explicitly praising Thiam for his work, it's clear that Thiam's delivery was not the issue here.

The explanation for his departure was the repeat situation: to run a firm that is found to be spying on one of its employees is bad, but apparently survivable. For it to happen twice makes the "isolated incident" defence unsustainable.

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