Paul Moore, who has died aged 61, was known by his colleagues at the bank HBOS as the “mad monk”. It was a reference to his Catholicism, but also to his outspokenness on matters of principle – an outspokenness which was vindicated when he became one of the most important financial whistleblowers of modern times.
As head of risk at HBOS, Moore warned that the bank was courting disaster through an obsession with profits. Soon after, Moore was fired by the bank’s chief executive, James Crosby, who would later be knighted and then made deputy chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
Four years after Moore’s sacking, however, HBOS collapsed: it had to be bought by Lloyd’s and bailed out with £20bn of taxpayers’ money. Moore decided to go public about his experiences, testifying to parliament. The spectacle of a senior banker speaking so bluntly about industry failures created a sensation: Moore’s story was all over the front pages. But Moore did demand a written apology from the Independent on Sunday after they headlined their story “Revenge of the whistleblower”. Revenge, Moore insisted, was not his aim.
Crosby, the man who had fired Moore, now faced intense public scrutiny. While denying all allegations of wrongdoing, he resigned from his senior position and gave up his knighthood.
A few years later, a parliamentary inquiry confirmed Moore’s criticisms of HBOS’s internal culture. “Vindication on this scale,” wrote the Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker, “usually happens only in the movies.”
But Moore, like many whistleblowers, paid a heavy price for his courage. “Your friends scatter like the four winds,” he commented. Nobody would employ him, and he suffered from severe manic depression. What got him through, he said, was his family and his faith.
Paul Russell Moore was born on October 30 1958, the second of four children to Bernard, an engineer described by his son as “a genius” but also a troubled alcoholic, and Jean (“cranky”, but “one of the best people I know in the world. She never stops helping others.”) Family meals were characterised by no-holds-barred discussions in which “the truth was everything”.
Moore, like his father, boarded at Ampleforth, where he got on with the monks, and he retained a lifelong affection for the school. But he preferred 70s hedonism to Catholic teaching and practice: “Once I’d found sex, it was going to be a problem putting the genie back in the box,” he reflected years later in his candid memoir Crash Bank Wallop.
After Bristol University, he qualified as a barrister, then worked in financial services and in 1994 joined the leading accountancy firm KPMG. Moore specialised in risk management, an area he compared to being a mechanic on a Formula One team: the better the brakes, the faster the car can go.
By that time, Moore was married with three children. In 1988, on a hang-gliding holiday in Chile, he had met Maureen Oats Villaquairan and decided within hours that he wanted to marry her. A devout Catholic, Maureen took the children to Mass while Moore, who still considered Catholicism a religion of “fear and guilt”, stayed home.
By 2001, the stress of the job had taken its toll on the marriage: Moore was drinking heavily, and on Boxing Day he and Maureen temporarily separated for four months. Their reconciliation helped pave the way for Moore’s return to the faith. On his name day, the feast of St Peter and Paul, he suddenly woke up remembering the words of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”) and was overwhelmed with a sense of peace.
After joining HBOS in 2002, Moore and his family moved to the North York Moors, near Ampleforth and the ruined Cistercian monastery Byland Abbey. Moore started going to Mass and praying – though he remained, he later admitted, “in the iron grip of greed”. He rose to become head of group regulatory risk, a stressful position paying up to £850,000 a year. “Looking back,” he would write, “I feel a real sense of having been caught up in a system which made it seem like this was right, when in fact it was wrong.”
Moore’s religion proved to be his bedrock after he was fired. His wife Maureen told him: “Don’t worry Paul, it’s all part of God’s plan for you.”
He challenged the decision to sack him, but the inquiry HBOS commissioned vindicated their decision. It was a devastating moment which precipitated a long crisis of mental illness.
Moore gained support from prayer, Scripture, reading the works of St John Henry Newman, and from a friend, Robert Toone, who lent him CDs by the American Christian preacher Joyce Meyer. These helped persuade Moore to blow the whistle: one was entitled You Can’t Defeat Goliath With Your Mouth Shut!
Moore had signed the customary “gagging order” as part of his settlement with HBOS, but he was able to speak to the Treasury Select Committee under parliamentary privilege. Moore saw the profit-chasing culture at HBOS as part of a wider problem: “Economic growth based almost solely on excessive consumer spending, based on excessive consumer credit, based on massively increasing property prices which were caused by the very same excessively easy credit could only ultimately lead to disaster.”
His public stand helped lead to a new pressure on banks to act ethically, though Moore felt that the opportunity to change the system had been missed, and in later years called for tighter financial regulation. Britain, he said, was less a democracy than a “corporatocracy”. “I am not a radical socialist,” Moore insisted. “I am a capitalist. But we need a different form of community, collaborative capitalism.”
Moore also viewed the banking crisis as the result of a spiritual crisis. The vast majority of people in finance are good people, he wrote, but “The trouble is that we have all been caught up in a ‘system’ that has encouraged us to do things that we know are not right … one in which profit, power and celebrity take precedent over principles and people.
“When these powerful human temptations are the only measuring stocks in our lies, we become enslaved to pride, greed, envy, vanity and all the other ‘deadly sins’ that many look like happiness but which, in the end, lead to the destruction of our real freedom.”
Moore’s writing took a philosophical turn: over the course of his life, he said, he had realised that “materialism, secularism, consumerism and moral relativism were false roads to wellbeing.” In Adam Smith’s day, he observed, there was an extra public regulator, the Divine Judgment Authority.
A lover of the outdoors, Moore enjoyed hang-gliding, skiing and motorbiking, and in his latter years became a keen cyclist.
In the comments section below his Times obituary, friends and former colleagues remembered him as “a remarkable man who took a firm stand against corruption” and “a man of immense courage, integrity and intellect whom I’m proud to have knows as a close friend”.
Despite years of mental illness, Moore looked back with gratitude on the controversy which had defined his career. “What once seemed to be a complete and utter disaster for my family and me has literally transformed itself into Amazing Grace,” he wrote. “My wife Maureen was right. It was all part of God’s plan for my life.”