Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain
Ian Fraser’s Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain has been named as a Book of the Year by the Financial Times, Bloomberg, The Week and Huffington Post and one of best books of the decade by the Financial Times.
Shredded has also been described as the “definitive account” of Royal Bank of Scotland’s collapse, one of the five best books on the global financial crisis, “a model of the journalist’s craft“, and “hard to put down at any point“.
Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf named it as one of his best books of 2014 when longlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year.
“A gripping account … RBS was a rogue business, operating in what had become a rogue industry, with the connivance of government. Read it and weep”—Martin Wolf, Financial Times
“Of two excellent recent books about the implosion of RBS, Ian Fraser’s Shredded is the darker, deeper and ultimately more satisfying version. It is given added weight by the author’s evident, and justified, anger at the way in which one bank brought the British financial system to the brink of catastrophe”—Andrew Hill, Financial Times
“Magnificent … one of the best investigative books of the past decade”—Eamonn O’Neill, BBC Radio Scotland
“A model of the journalist’s craft, Zola-esque in its broad and unsparing study of corporate hubris and nemesis and haunting in the questions it leaves in its wake”—Bill Jamieson, The Scotsman
“Shredded is a gripping story that every British taxpayer should read … If there is one constant theme, it is that bank reform is too important to be left in the hands of bankers and politicians”—Joel Benjamin, Fabian Review
“Magisterial…. the most detailed catalogue to date of the errors and misdemeanours leading up to RBS’s 2008 collapse and the failure—in Fraser’s view—to reform the bank in its aftermath”—Colin Donald, The Herald
“The definitive account of the Royal Bank of Scotland fiasco … an engaging tale of how self-serving bank executives systematically broke the rules, lent with astonishing recklessness, abused customers and got suckered by Wall Street — before dumping their mess on the taxpayers”—Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism
“Impeccably researched and hard to put down at any point … The author pulls no punches”—Philip Augar, Financial Times
“Combines Greek tragedy with real-life events that have affected us all. It’s hard to put down”—Devraj Ray, Mortgage Strategy
“Shredded is an exhaustive, no-holds-barred account of a seismic implosion by a writer with a forensic understanding of his subject”—Tom Mooney, The Echo
“Explosive”—Tom Harper, Independent on Sunday
“I don’t think I have ever read such a perfect morality tale for our times”—Iona Bain, FT Adviser
“Shredded is compulsory reading for everybody interested in finding out important truths about the political and financial worlds we live in… to learn about these links [between politics and finance], the arrogance and impudence of the people involved in an explicit, straightforward, illuminating, and often humorous way is a wonderful experience for the reader and proof of the author’s exceptional achievement. This is simply a masterpiece”—Prof Klaus Peter Müller, Scottish Studies
“We meet shocking recklessness in Shredded … The extent of greed and broken governance is fascinating and highly disturbing. The book raises critical questions about how and why RBS practices persisted and whether much if anything has changed to prevent such institutions from harming society”—Prof Anat Admati, Bloomberg
“There is a moral force that keeps Fraser’s narrative going and makes the reader want to turn the page. He is scrupulously fair to the characters he puts before us, for instance to Mathewson, a good man who acquires a sort of tragic stature as he sees his dream turn to nightmare … Fraser understands and can sympathise with human beings caught up in the events that overwhelm them. Yet in a final chapter, drawing up a balance-sheet of blame, he is unsparing in his judgments. This remains an extremely clear-sighted book: a great achievement”—Michael Fry, Scottish Review of Books
“The definitive text. I’m thinking of Barbarians at the Gate about Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and RJR Nabisco. An instant classic”—Max Keiser, The Keiser Report
“A stunner—an epic on an Edward Gibbon scale”—Prof. Christopher Harvie, University of Tübingen
“Not just the definitive book on the collapse of RBS but one of the best five books on the great financial collapse which changed the history of the 21st century. Ian pulls no punches in his conclusions”—Russell Napier, market historian & investment strategist
“You should absolutely read Ian Fraser’s Shredded. It is probably the definitive work on the British and Irish banks in the Great Bubble and the ensuing Great Financial Crisis”—Alexander Harrowell, The Yorkshire Ranter
“This is one of the finest in-depth investigations published in Scotland in recent times. It’s also a book that, uniquely, makes us reflect on the past but the future too. And for me the best part is that – in finest investigative journalism tradition – it names the ‘guilty men’. It provides chapter and verse in forensic detail on their crimes and misdemeanors. These include the people we are already familiar with and some that seem to have crept back into public life via broadcasters who should know better. I cannot praise Ian Fraser and this work highly enough”—Eamonn O’Neill
“Engrossing, fascinating and appalling… a fast-paced and sickeningly-depressing exposition of what can go wrong when corporate governance fails”—Ruth Bender, Cranfield University
“My book of the year … It is very readable, a magnum opus of research and perspective … Moral Hazard is well explained. Basically, it means bankers can bet the ranch. Lose. And we taxpayers buy them a new one. And let them pay themselves millions because they’re so amazing and important to the economy”—Douglas Mill, The Firm Magazine
“We need more journalists of Fraser’s calibre, who are able to delve into the often arcane world of high finance and to take a strong, independent viewpoint. We may never see the perp walk that the British public richly deserves but, by keeping vigil, we might avoid sleepwalking into another financial crisis”—Robert Alstead, The Edinburgh Guide
“A rattling good read. Hubris, nemesis. Truly shocking”—Paul Rogerson, Law Society Gazette
“This book should be posted through the letterbox of every taxpayer in Britain”—David Mellor, former chief secretary to the Treasury, Classic FM and LBC
“Nearly six years after the bailout, Shredded reminds us how much of banking reform is still a work in progress”—Nick Dunbar, NickDunbar.net
“Ian Fraser has produced a genuine page-turner from material that is, on the face of it, pretty dry. [Shredded] raises important questions about the extent to which the political system has been captured by financial interests”—Alex Marsh, Pieria
“The best financial book I’ve ever read. Thank you, Ian, for a public service”—Simon Bain, The Herald
“Shredded should be compulsory reading for every MP and financial regulator in the country”—Nick Wallis, BBC Television
“A manual for understanding banks, the financial crisis, and also corporate greed and hubris”—P.C. Dettman
“Ian Fraser’s Shredded should be required reading for every civil servant at H.M. Treasury, for every apparatchik in the FCA, and for every politician whose brief engages with the City. [It] leaves a wide variety of players badly bruised and with reputations seriously diminished … It is an important piece of work because it throws down a heavy gauntlet to the financial establishment and challenges them to pick it up and answer the charges it contains”—Rowan Bosworth-Davies
“The best single company book I have read — not just post-crisis, but at any time. Better written and better sourced [than Iain Martin’s Making it Happen], Shredded achieves a much better understanding of what went wrong”—Simon Samuels, former managing director, Barclays
Note: You can read most of these reviews in full by clicking on the name and publication of the reviewer.
Shredded explores how, under Fred Goodwin—a former partner at accountants Deloitte—, RBS became a rogue institution with few qualms about “misselling” financial products to individual and business customers in pursuit of profit, a cavalier disregard for the law and a warped idea of its own financial skills and strength.
The bank’s collapse, though triggered by the September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, was largely the consequence of its pursuit of scale for its own sake. This was epitomised by reckless bubble-era lending to frothy sectors including commercial property and leveraged buyouts, its naive faith in subprime derivatives even after they were rejected by savvvier Wall Street firms, and of course its ill-conceived €71.1bn takeover of ABN Amro.
Shredded outlines how, by terrorising subordinates, ingratiating himself to his superiors, gaming financial regulations and misleading politicians, Goodwin created a poisonous cocktail that ensured the bank could blow up at any time.
But the book makes clear it wasn’t all Goodwin’s fault. Institutional investors and analysts in the City of London gave Goodwin—who was surfing a tide of hyperbole following RBS’s £21bn acquisition of NatWest in March 2000—carte blanche to do as he chose in the early years of his reign and green-lighted catastrophic moves such as the ABN Amro takeover. When it came to ensuring the bank was responsibly managed, RBS’s chairmen and non-executive directors turned out to be largely useless. Its auditors, Deloitte, added to the bank’s precariousness with their reluctance to challenge deceptive accounting. Deluded politicians, notably former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, regulators and central bankers are also hugely culpable, partly thanks to their blind faith in the competence and integrity of RBS’s management and determination to embark on a Alan Greenspan-inspired regulatory race-to-the-bottom.
But Shredded isn’t just about the catastrophic failures of one bank and those who were supposed to oversee it. It is also about what went wrong with the wider banking and financial system from the 1980s onwards, detailing a catalogue of political, regulatory and ideological missteps.
The final chapters of Shredded detail the successive post-crisis failures of the governments of prime ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron to reform either RBS or the wider banking sector. The bank’s often mendacious approach to litigation, its penchant for rigging numerous sectors of the financial markets, and its deliberate destruction of UK small and medium-sized business borrowers are symptomatic of this. The book concludes that the UK’s lacklustre attempts at addressing such issues have left RBS, the British banking system and the wider economy vulnerable to further collapses.
Based on one-to-one interviews with 120 current and former employees of RBS and related companies, Shredded covers the period from RBS’s incorporation in 1727 to the present day. But its main focus is the 22 years since 1992—when Goodwin’s predecessor Sir George Mathewson instituted an ultimately misguided revolution with a view to saving the bank from an earlier near-collapse.
Sunday Herald article: Ian Fraser on 13 things he discovered ‘on the trail of Fred the Shred‘—published 8th June 2014.
Ian Fraser interviewed by Max Keiser, of the Keiser Report, recorded Monday, 2 June 2014 and broadcast two days later.
Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain can be ordered from Amazon.co.uk, Birlinn, Waterstones, The Guardian and numerous other websites. It can also be purchased in most leading bookshops. It is currently available as a 480-page hardback and a Kindle.