Anthony Hilton: City agencies mine rapid response niche

Peter Cummings, one of the top people at HBOS before the financial crash, was fined a massive £500,000 earlier this month when the Financial Services Authority said that in its opinion his actions and the directions he gave to people under him had contributed significantly to the bank's misfortunes.

Anthony Hilton: Maitland haved carved a niche with under-fire execs
Anthony Hilton: Maitland haved carved a niche with under-fire execs

What set this apart, other than the size of the fine, was that the announcement from the regulator was matched virtually to the minute by a powerful rebuttal issued on behalf of Cummings by financial comms consultancy Maitland, his PR adviser.

This made clear that Cummings thought everyone at the top of the bank had some responsibility for its downfall and he did not see why he alone had been singled out. The rebuttal added that he did not accept the substance of the regulator's charges was fair in the context of the time, but benefited heavily from hindsight.

Thirdly, it stated that Cummings had decided to accept the verdict and not to take the matter to independent appeal only because of the financial burden of doing so and because he and his wife wanted to put the matter behind them and not have it drag on for who knows how many more years.

People will make up their own minds on which version to believe, but the strategy worked in that every report of the fine also contained the essence of Cummings' rebuttal. It is rare indeed for the defendant in such a case to be that organised.

Maitland is carving quite a niche for itself in representing high-profile individuals who have come under the cosh. Its most recent such client before Cummings was Bob Diamond, former chief executive of Barclays, though that relationship did not last long - not because of difficulties with Diamond but because of clashes on strategy with his other advisers, notably his American lawyers. Diamond is now being advised by a former leading light at Maitland, Philip Gawith, at his new firm StockWell.

There are going to be a lot more cases such as these and it could turn into a significant line of business for financial PR consultancies.


Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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