Twenty or 30 years ago it used to be common practice among major UK companies that at least one member of the board was a banker. He would be non-executive, typically in the later stages of - or immediately retired from - a successful clearing bank career. As Yve Newbold, chief executive of Pro Ned, says, 'He brought weight, gravitas and probity as well as his experience of financial matters'. In more recent years, banks and bankers have generally had a dismal time, and many would consider their esteem ratings rather lower than they were. Newbold is herself on the board of British Telecommunications, which manages to get by without a banking member.
Nonetheless a recent report (called European Boards of Directors Study) from head-hunters Korn/Ferry reveals that a third of Britain's boards still boast a banker. Not in all cases qua banker, however. 'It all depends on what you mean by banker,' says Robin Davies, company secretary of paper maker Arjo Wiggins Appleton which has no fewer than four directors with serious banking experience. They include chairman Cobb Stenham who left Unilever in mid-career to join Bankers Trust, and Ian Tegner who was once finance director at Midland Bank. 'In all four cases it's incidental,' Davies emphasises. 'We don't currently have a policy of ensuring there's a banker on board.'
Alistair Fleming, chief executive of Forth Ports, takes a similar view.