Angela Knight has a tough job. As the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association she is essentially apologist in chief for the group of people widely credited with the most severe economic crash in living memory.
As public sector spending cuts start to bite, small businesses continue to struggle to get credit, and the threat of stagflation looms ever more menacingly, Knight is probably hoping and praying for bankers to keep a low profile for a while – most of all stop paying themselves so much.
She will have been disappointed. Shortly after announcing that his bank paid just £113m in corporation tax in 2009, Barclays Chief Exec, Bob Diamond, revealed he’s paid himself a bonus of £6.5m.
He doesn’t really have to worry about the fall-out from all this. That’s what he’s got Angela Knight for. You can imagine the conversation, as Rich Ricci (the remarkably named boss of Barclays Capital) put his head round Diamond’s office door.
Ricci : “Bob! £6.5m, you old dog!”
Diamond: “I know! Great, isn’t it, Rich? And you? Think you’ll scrape by on your £44m?”
Ricci: “Oh I’ll manage somehow. This is the Age of Austerity after all – ho ho ho! Just one thing, Bob – how are we going to square it with the media? I mean, surely, there will be questions asked?”
Diamond: “Oh yeah. There always are. That’s what we’ve got good old Angela for. She’ll go on telly and trot out some bollocks about how we’re all going to move to Switzerland if the Government stops us paying ourselves what we like.”
Ricci: “Switzerland – hilarious! How do they keeping thinking of new ones? Anyway, so long as you’ve got it all in hand I’d best get on. This money doesn’t spend itself after all.”
Something like that anyway.
So, you’d expect Angela Knight to be a good media performer. And she is. She used to be a Conservative MP after all. Take a look at her on Reuters TV.
Five things I think she does well:
1) Straight away she corrects the journalist’s assumption. In fact she doesn’t really contradict him that much, but the fact she’s done it, and done it in a friendly, jovial way, immediately puts her in a strong position in what could turn into a difficult interview.
2) She’s well presented, in smart, sombre colours. Her jewellery might be a bit fussy for TV, and her hair’s a little flyaway, but nothing that would distract too much or detract from her impressive appearance.
3) She deals with awkward questions (such as “Which of your members are going to leave?”) well. She can’t really answer this, but she doesn’t make it clear she’s not answering it. She looks as if she’s answering it, but actually talks about something altogether. Crucially, she makes what she does say fairly interesting and to the point of the interview.
4) She’s clearly very well briefed on exactly what she believes the banking industry has done to curb excessive pay.
5) She signposts her key messages. For example: “What we MUST do is achieve balance in how we view this issue…”
All in all I think it’s a very impressive performance and one that anyone planning to speak to journalists in front of the camera could learn from. And best of all, it means those good old bankers have one less thing to worry about, and can dedicate themselves full-time to spending their bonuses.