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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right Royal Bankers
A great deal has been written about the banking crisis of 2007-10, much of it of a similar dreadful quality to some of the assets on the RBS balance sheet in 2007. To my mind, two serious attempts have been made to document what led to the crash at RBS: the BBC documentary "Inside the Bank that Ran out of Money", and now Iain Martin's book.

Martin received...
Published 8 months ago by J Cross

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but doesn't really explain what happened
I did enjoy this book and it has been researched well in terms of the people. I think it does a good job of talking about some of the characters at RBS.

The book describes in great detail the investment bank, CDO's and acquisition of ABN Amro along with portraits of the people involved in these areas.

Then casually at the end of the book it is made...
Published 4 months ago by Andrew V


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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right Royal Bankers, 4 Jan 2014
This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
A great deal has been written about the banking crisis of 2007-10, much of it of a similar dreadful quality to some of the assets on the RBS balance sheet in 2007. To my mind, two serious attempts have been made to document what led to the crash at RBS: the BBC documentary "Inside the Bank that Ran out of Money", and now Iain Martin's book.

Martin received co-operation from the Royal Bank. He interviewed the CEO and chairman, had access to RBS archives, and conducted off-the-record interviews with key current and former RBS employees. This book is largely a summary of those interviews, presented in a direct and unadorned style. If the Bank didn't want it to be written, they at least made the best of the inevitable. The resulting book is unbiased and reasonably sympathetic to the current RBS management.

Martin tackles the main areas leading up to the crash in roughly chronological order: the history of Scottish banking, the early career of Fred Goodwin, Sir George Mathewson's reform of the Bank in the 1990s, the NatWest takeover and Goodwin's stewardship in the 2000s. The pace quickens with the ABN Amro deal, whereby Goodwin set out to buy an American retail bank and ended up with a Dutch wholesale one. Then we have the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, the credit crunch and the crisis at RBS, culminating in the biggest failure in UK corporate history and recession in the wider economy. Even though you know the outcome, it's thrilling stuff.

An exception to the chronology is that chapter one deals with the height of the crisis. No doubt Martin's publisher thought it boring to start with a lesson in Scottish history, but to restore the proper order, insert chapter one between 13 and 14.

Martin is at his weakest when he strays from exposition of the facts. In chapter 11, he tries to teach us something of asset and liability management. Having accused Goodwin of having a weak grasp of the subject, Martin shows himself to be less than a master. I would recommend that every aspiring corporate treasury employee read this book as a warning of what can go wrong, but you won't learn much about how treasury actually works.

In his final chapter, Martin gives his own idea for regulatory reform. He thinks that balance sheets have grown too big to be managed by the boards of the banks, so we should have many smaller banks. The trouble is, there are two reasons for bailouts: not only are banks so exposed to each other that a collapse of one can trigger the domino effect, whereby the whole system starts to collapse, but it is politically unacceptable for small depositors and SMEs to lose their deposits. Even small banks may need to be bailed.

Many reforms are needed. Capital ratios are being strengthened by a combination of recapitalisation and balance-sheet reduction. Banks should never again fund long-term assets, such as mortgages, on the overnight money market - banking is all about funding long-term assets with short-term liabilities, such as current account balances and deposits, but the behaviour of such liabilities is well understood and they tend to roll over even in stressed conditions, whereas the short-term money market can dry up overnight as we saw in 2008. The Basel committee will hopefully agree improved standards on the weighting and inclusion of derivatives on the balance-sheet. The new UK regulators need to be bolder in enforcing new capital and liquidity standards and in being willing to refuse to approve insufficiently qualified and experienced bank directors and senior staff. There are things the government could do to help, such as smoothing the boom-bust cycle by counter-cyclicality in economic policy (with the acquiescence of us voters). Clearly, the ratings agencies got things badly wrong leading up to the crisis, so my own view is that we would be in a better position if we moved away from our dependence on these three American firms with their questionable fee structure, and instead developed an international ratings standards body. The latter reforms seem a long way off but the former are well underway and should stave off another disaster for a while. The danger will come in decades' time, when memories have faded and a new generation questions the need for the onerous banking regulation that we are now developing. If you buy Iain Martin's book, leave it in a prominent place where your grandchildren may stumble across it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but doesn't really explain what happened, 3 May 2014
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I did enjoy this book and it has been researched well in terms of the people. I think it does a good job of talking about some of the characters at RBS.

The book describes in great detail the investment bank, CDO's and acquisition of ABN Amro along with portraits of the people involved in these areas.

Then casually at the end of the book it is made clear that the majority of the losses were in property lending in the UK and Ireland. However up until that point there had been no mention of property lending or any of the people involved in that part of the business. I would have thought that the area of the business responsible for the largest losses should have been covered in some way. What happened? Who were the people involved?

Also in his conclusion he implies that HSBC was just as bad as HBOS and RBOS which is pretty unfair. Tax payers have not had to bail out HSBC. While the management of HSBC are not perfect they are in a different league to Fred Goodwin and company.

Overall, I think the flaw is that the author does not properly understand finance. I have also read "Hubris: How HBOS Wrecked the Best Bank in Britain" and "Anglo Republic: Inside the bank that broke Ireland" which in my view are better books because they properly explain what happened. After finishing Make It Happen I feel that I still don't completely understand what happened at RBS.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but with flaws, 1 Oct 2013
Making It Happen more or less gets it right - it gives enough detail, but doesn't drown the narrative in banking detail. It is also fairly even handed it it's allocation of culpability. It would have been easy to have made Fred a pantomime villan, but the author doesn't fall into this trap. I think the author deserves credit for this.

That is not to say it is perfect. The perspective is a little too 'Scottish' in places, and would benefit from a greater global perspective. And whilst I understand why the author opted for the structure he did, it meant that the book just faded out with a whimper, rather than the big BANG it deserved. Finally, if the author mentioned that Fred had the RBS limos painted in 'RBS Blue' one more time I think i might have knocked another star off ;)

Finally, I disagree with all the other reviewers saying that this is a story of megalomania, ego or hubris. For me it was a warning about the dangers of group-think and the bad decisions that get made when dissent is all but banned.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat disappointing, 5 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
This book disappointed me - it focuses far too much on the personalities and the authors view of them, and far too little on the actual causes of the crash. It's really an elongated opinion piece, not a proper assessment. In any book about the RBS collapse I would expect an assessment of the corporate Bank and Ulster Bank, both huge contributors to the crash, but instead the author has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the Investment Bank, which was a significant, but not sole factor. This book was fine, but it could have been so much better in my view.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for many ex bankers, 17 Sep 2013
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R. Ford - See all my reviews
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For what to many is a dry (and boring)subject, this book destroys that myth. As an ex NatWest employee I found it totally fascinating and well researched - even explaining CDO's and sub prime mortgages really well. I loved his naming the whole board involved in the ABN-Amro disaster. About time someone did!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skips over the detail, 26 April 2014
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All in all, a pretty good read. However, getting towards the final stages of the book, I was hoping for a detailed analysis of what exactly caused the write downs and losses, but got only a few passing references to how much was lost in a few asset classes or business lines.

Many people have the view that RBS's losses were caused by some vague notion of 'gambling' or 'toxic loans'. This book had the opportunity of laying out exactly what caused the losses, but failed to fully grasp it. Having read the book, I now know that a large percentage of the losses were incurred in property lending, particularly in Ireland (both North and South), but I still am none the wiser of what the total exposure was to US sub prime and related CDOs was, what the eventually realised losses on this asset class were, what percentage of the exposure and losses came from the RBS side and what came from the ABN acquisition etc.

Maybe a future edition could give some more detail on the balance sheet and losses. More interestingly, it could run a what if scenario - estimating what the eventual losses might have been if half of the bank's assets hadn't been sold at fire sale prices.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good insight into what really happened, 6 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
A good insight into what really happened and it appears the author had access to various senior members of staff that were prepared to talk (anonymously). That said, there are some gaps in the history here (post NatWest takeover) which appears to have been missed - either the individuals were not prepared to speak or the author didn't think they were important. Shame as they were important at the time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account of RBS implosion., 5 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
Interesting account of the events leading up to the implosion of RBS and the financial crisis. Sets it in historic context going back to Jacobite rebellion and so on.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making it happen by Iain Martin, 20 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
Well written with excellent insight for the the layman of the personalities,hubris and working of financial markets. Would certainly recommend.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ACCOUNTANT, BUT NO BANKER, 2 Oct 2013
By 
DOPPLEGANGER (TEDDY B) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy (Hardcover)
Iain Martin's account and analysis of the rise and fall of The Royal Bank of Scotland, and included in the hubris, Fred (The Shred) Goodwin, "Making It Happen", leaves no doubt that the underlying all-pervasive problem was allowing and encouraging an accountant, the said Fred Goodwin to be in executive control of a trade viz banking that as a professional accountant he had little or no grounding, experience or aptitude in.

Whist a good finance man and also a first class project manager as he exhibited with the integration of The NatWest Group into RBS, he alas was woefully inadequate to be a leading banker in charge of a large banking group, and he did not take the final few rungs up the ladder to move from 'dotting i's and crossing t's' to become a fully fledged canny Scottish Banker. He was far more at home burying himself in the minutiae of relatively trivial nit-picking such as office tidiness, colour of company cars, office design etc than the more vital banking fundamentals such as prudent lending policies, proper matched funding of its liabilities, and control of the investment banking, and other activities. RBS borrowed far too much, and lent the money very unwisely, and blundered headlong into the highly 'toxic' Collateralized Debt Obligation casino arena.

The author does, however, have a degree of sympathy for Fred Goodwin and asks 'why should he have all the blames, as a lightening rod for everybody else?'. There were plenty of opportunities to stop him, and yet hardly anyone at RBS really tried. Why? Money had quite a lot to do with it, with many staff claiming to be too scared of him to give him bad news or stand up to him, where in reality their reluctance to say anything related to the fact that they were trousering millions of pounds in salary, bonuses and share incentives.

This is an excellent, well written, informative and importantly a very readable book that manages admirably to give good perspective and balance to the circumstances leading up to the banks's insolvency and bailout by the British taxpayer. Yet again the weaknesses and gaping flaws in the Regulatory system and it's so-called 'responsible executives', are brought to the fore, with being named and shamed, high up on the list being the then Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.

Presumably because of legal restrictions, scant mention is made of Mr Goodwin's affair with a high ranking RBS female executive, which occurred over the period when RBS was coming under severe pressure and needed firm, constant and concentrated management from it's CEO, and may well have been an unwarranted and catastrophic diversion at that time. The fact that a simple 'google' will readily name the woman involved and lead to a long video featuring her, illustrates the uselessness of the so-called super injunctions that the affluent resort to in the belief that their adulterous liaisons will be kept under wraps or should I say duvets!
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