Deutsche Bank boss Josef Ackermann spent last night in Washington chilling with Bono, Bill Clinton and other dignitaries at the Atlantic Council’s annual awards dinner.
While he applauded the influential think tank’s “courage to give an award to a banker," he acknowledged in his speech that bankers had made mistakes with financial instruments that were too complex to understand the risks that were taken.
Among the others honorees were James Mattis, of the U.S. Marine Corp., and Stephane Abrial, of the French Air Force. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, John McCain and Chuck Hagel (left) were among the dozens of politicians and military officials on hand to schmooze. Former President George H. W. Bush appeared via video feed after being introduced by Joe Scarborough.
Here’s an excerpt of Ackermann’s speech:
Firstly, it’s essential to start with a dispassionate view of the banking industry. We have heard many passionate views recently. But there are two sides to this coin and we need to look at both sides. Without question, structural weaknesses existed. Mistakes were made. Rewards grew out of proportion to the risks that were being taken. Some financial instruments were so complex that the risks they posed were not properly understood. We underestimated the interconnectedness of the banking system. Problems at a few institutions created problems for many and some in the industry lost sight of their role as servants of the greater good of society.
But on the other hand, the banking system as a whole has facilitated the period of prosperity and economic growth that was unparalleled in recent history. Capital flowed across the world faster and more freely than ever. Financial innovation allowed business leaders to realize their aspirations, widen their horizons and protect themselves from risk. Most of this activity was totally unrelated to the instruments that triggered the crisis.