Living wills for banks, an idea now backed with some force by the chancellor, sound like a step in the right direction. The proposal is a long way from visions of "narrow" banking, but a watery prescription is better than none.
The demand that a bank make a will amounts to a request that its operations be capable of being wound down easily in the event of failure. There have been failures as long as there have been banks, and since the big firms have a unique ability to cause havoc when they die, wills would make sense at any time. After Lehman, the advantages should be plainer than ever. Lehman's administrators say the mopping-up operation could take a decade, which is absurd.
There would be other benefits. As Alistair Darling put it in a Financial Times interview, Royal Bank of Scotland "manifestly did not understand the risk to which it was exposed" when it bought ABN Amro. It was buying a bank that was "clearly opaque and clearly a bit of a mess".
If a duty to make a will forces banks to unscramble some of their complexity, investors should cheer - they'd have half a chance of understanding the accounts. Page 62 of Lehman's final set of accounts, under the heading "off balance sheet arrangements," showed derivative contracts with a face value of $738bn. Could investors honestly say they understood the risks?
So who's not in favour? Darling put his finger on it: "I do worry when an organisation is structured for tax purposes rather than for the efficiency of its business and the strength of its business."
Yes, complexity breeds opportunities for cross-border tax savings, which is why a few banks will argue that wills would be an administrative nightmare and would damage competitiveness. That's just a plea for special treatment. Strike when the iron's hot, says Darling; let's hope he means it.
Not on the Ball
Standstill at ITV. No, we're not talking about the Competition Commission's verdict on contract rights renewal, the formula that sets parameters on advertising rates. That stuff requires a PhD in advanced mathematics to fathom; it's not surprising the commission was vague about what changes it wants.
The important standstill involves Tony Ball. What's holding up his appointment as chief executive?
The delay looked odd last Friday, when it was chewed over here. The facts aren't much clearer now, although it appears that Ball has requested a Sir Martin Sorrell-style contract. In other words, Ball, a wealthy man thanks to his days at Sky, would put up his own cash and enjoy a turbo-charged payout if the share price hits a certain level.
Such contracts are highly unusual. Is that ITV's worry? Or is the proposed target too low? Or has resistance to Ball from senior ITV executives caused a re-think? These appointments take time, mutters ITV. Well, they do when the two sides aren't talking to each other.
Ball was ITV's second choice, so shareholders wouldn't be impressed if another candidate slips away. That doesn't necessarily mean it would be
the wrong decision, of course. But the drama needs an ending - soon.
Dick missed a trick
Amid the commemorations of Lehman Brothers' death a year ago, the internal videos that punctuated the BBC's excellent Love of Money documentary stand out.
Everybody knew Dick Fuld was an ambitious so-and-so, but here he could seen in full mad-as-a-box-of-frogs mode, vowing to crush his enemies soon after ascending to the top of Lehman.
It was a picture of a chief executive who would be brilliant at riding a bull market but also be wholly incapable of recognising defeat. So it proved, as Fuld turned away approaches that might have saved Lehman.
We need more of these internal videos - not from Lehman, but from all companies. Somebody should set up a website and appeal to public-spirited employees for content. The legal bills might be high but smart investors would pay for access.