Finance sector prepares for Greek exit - just in case

No one wants to shout "fire" - but neither do they want to be the last in the burning room.

No matter how unlikely the financial sector thinks Greece exiting the euro will be, it is taking every precaution possibile to make sure it doesn't get hurt by the process.

Lloyd's of London is preparing for a collapse of the single currency, and has reduced its exposure to the continent "as much as possible", according to a report in the Sunday Telegraph. Despite that, Europe still accounts for 18 per cent of Lloyd's £23.5bn of gross written premiums, with much of that concentrated in Spain and Italy, as well as the safer markets of France and Germany.

Richard Ward, the chief executive of Lloyd's, said:

I'm quite worried about Europe. With all the concerns around the eurozone at the moment, we've got to be careful doing business in Europe and there are a lot of question marks over writing business in the future in euros. I don't think that if Greece exited the euro it would lead to the collapse of the eurozone, but what we need to do is prepare for that eventuality. . .

We've got multi-currency functionality and we would switch to multi-currency settlement if the Greeks abandoned the euro and started using the drachma again.

Other institutions are putting their own houses in order. Two weeks ago, ITV's Laura Kuenssberg tweeted from a trading floor where the drachma had already been installed into the systems, and Reuters reported that a number of banks were quietly preparing for the exit, in which  case those problems would be the least of their worries:

Some banks never erased the drachma from their systems after Greece adopted the euro more than a decade ago and would be ready at the flick of a switch if its debt problems forced it to bring back national banknotes and coins. . .

A Greek departure from the euro would create legal and practical problems for the banks which would dwarf the relatively straightforward technical job of dealing in a new currency.

But how unlikely does everyone think exit actually is? Are they covering for an extreme black swan event, or is it something which they are all expecting? Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider provides this chart, from Credit Suisse:

For those of you without the maths skills, that's a roughly 15 per cent total chance of a Greek exit, and another 20 per cent chance of a third round of elections (which, of course, takes us right back where we are already). Not definitely going to happen, but worth preparing for in case. No one wants to shout "fire" and spark a run, but no one wants to be the last one in the burning room either.

A Greek euro. But will it exist next month?! Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.