Seán FitzPatrick, the banker who symbolized Ireland’s Celtic Tiger’s blossom and bust image, has died of a heart attack at the age of 73.
The blunt financier, who built Anglo Irish Bank in a financial juggernaut that has spectacularly collapsed was rushed to hospital last week after reckless borrowing and questionable accounting practices after suddenly falling ill. He died Monday, according to his family.
FitzPatrick remained unrepentant about his role in causing a crisis that plunged the banking sector in a bail of € 64 billion after the global financial crisis exposed a colossal liquidity crisis.
“He went from the poster boy of the Celtic Tiger to the whip boy of the country’s accident,” Simon Carswell, author of Anglo Republic, Inside the bank that broke Ireland, told the Financial Times. “He was the emblem of Ireland’s bank – driven boom.”
FitzPatrick – known as “Seánie” to his friends and “Fitzie” behind his back at work – joined in 1974 what has grown into Ireland’s third largest bank. CEO from 1986 to 2005 and chairman from 2005 until he left in shame in 2008 when the bank collapsed.
He advocated a speedy loan approval model that would put Anglo Irish Bank, then the country’s third largest institution, behind AIB and Bank of Ireland, from a valuation of around € 600 million in 2000 to more than € 13 billion in 2007 on its peaked.
Real estate developers, whose flashy projects transformed Ireland from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s in a period that earned the country the Celtic Tier name, have become the bank’s biggest customers. Anglo Irish has gained a reputation as the developers’ favorite institution as the country’s economy soared.
But his success quickly unraveled. It turned out that for several years FitzPatrick had been hiding tens of millions of euros in personal loans by refraining from the books – a practice that was considered immoral but not illegal. Unlike his successor as CEO, David Drumm, and other senior bank figures, FitzPatrick was never convicted or sent to jail.
He was acquitted in 2017 after a trial of 127 days of criminal charges related to alleged misleading auditors.
Patrick Honohan, director of the central bank at the time of the crash, said in 2015 it was “unwise, rather than criminal” actions by bankers that caused the crisis, and that their “uncontrolled and reckless” behavior was behind Ireland’s economic collapse.
When the financial crisis hit, Anglo Irish’s reckless loans caught up with it and it lost € 1 billion a day, Carswell said, urging the government to step in. By that time, FitzPatrick had made a fortune accumulating stock in the bank, although he was declared bankrupt in 2010.
The Irish Times newspaper said the bank had “lost money the old-fashioned way make one shit loan after another”. It needed a bailout of € 29.3 billion – almost half of the total pumped into the country’s banks to stop them from collapsing.
But FitzPatrick told an interviewer in 2011 he could not “Say sorry with any sincerity or decency” for a bank collapse he blamed global problems.
A rugby player in his youth and an avid golfer, FitzPatrick has kept a low profile in recent years.
Many figures in the Irish financial world have refused to comment for fear of speaking ill of the dead. In the end, “he was an almost tragic figure, for himself and the country,” one said.