"We would not do raw land on its own because you're taking a long bet on the market. Banks will only ever take a short to medium view. It can form a small part of collateral, but would never be prime collateral. Generally if it's not zoned it's not liquid and we just don't like that."
Thus spoke David Drumm of Anglo Irish Bank in relation to unzoned land in February 2004 just months before he became the bank's chief executive. Obviously, what appeared to be sensible policies such as these do not appear to have been followed later as the bank decided to grow its loan book "at light speed" as current chief executive Mike Aynsley put it recently. The result is a €22bn bill for taxpayers, as Anglo's attitude led other banks to compete with it, exacerbating the crisis which we are now in.
Drumm also told me that the bank had been growing its market share in Britain, but wasn't particularly interested in moving into financing developments. "We keep developments there to an absolute minimum and we definitely have no intention to ramp it up. We will continue to pick and choose which deals we do. We have a conservative attitude to Britain and we will maintain that, but there are still clear opportunities to grow and build the business," he said at the time.
But that policy was again left aside as in the six months to the end of March 2005, loan growth in the UK rose by 15% to €11.3bn. By March 2009 the UK loan book stood at €18.7bn, or just over a quarter of the bank's total book.
There's more. By 2004, the speculative office market in suburban Dublin was showing strains but Drumm said the bank had no exposure to speculative developments in that market. "We avoided spec like the plague," Drumm said. Typically, he said, the only suburban offices Anglo had dealt with were investment properties let on long leases to tenants with good covenants. By the end of the year, however, Anglo had given a loan to the Fleming Group's Tivway in relation to sites in Sandyford for, you've guessed it, speculative development. Tivway was one of three Fleming companies that went into liquidation earlier this year. Anglo was owed €260m.
The point of all this? Had the bank followed its own advice we wouldn't be in this mess.