You probably don’t think much of your bank. Mailshots of services you have happily lived without; “your call is important to us” as you wait and wait to speak to a human being; fat booklets of terms and conditions that life is too short to read; punishment charges for going overdrawn.

They are all the same – or not, according to Michael Lafferty and Jane Fuller, both formerly of this parish. Their Bank Quality Ratings, culled from those other unread tomes, the annual reports, prove that there is gold buried in the hundreds of pages of low-grade ore. They pan for sustainability in the small print, and award stars.

The answers are not a great surprise: no big UK bank gets more than three stars out of five, while Barclays gets only two – and even that is an improvement on its one-star rating the last time Lafferty looked.

When it comes to assessing sustainable models in banking, it seems that big is bad. Cleverer people are noticing. Now that ignorantia non excusat for those at the top, even persuading the best people to step up to run the big beasts is hard. Of Europe’s top 100 banks, only four can boast a CEO with a proper banking qualification.

The international monsters may never escape the sins of the past. Morgan Stanley’s  worst-case estimate of costs and fines against Royal Bank of Scotland is almost £30bn, or half as much again as its market value. That estimate includes just £500m for RBS’s treatment of distressed businesses in the crisis. A report from the Financial Conduct Authority is due shortly. If it is as damaging as the rumours suggest, Lafferty’s two-star score will look generous.

Only nine banks warrant four stars, including Aldermore and Close Brothers in the UK. They are all small enough to be comprehensible to the human mind. Those running the big banks may wish to be smaller and simpler, but it is not easy. Lloyds spent as much disentangling TSB as it raised in the sale – and TSB was promptly bought by Santander. There is clearly a very long way to go.

Elliott, the long-term shareholder

There is one clear loser from the decision of Lord Rothschild’s RIT Capital Partners to abandon its pursuit of Alliance Trust. Alliance’s biggest shareholder, Elliott Advisors, had agitated for a deal to allow a profitable exit from its 16 per cent holding, but RIT, bounced into a statement when the story broke in the FT, lost the initiative and then lost interest.

Elliott has achieved much from hounding Alliance. The complacent old board has gone, and radical action is now all but certain. This is likely to mean dismantling the current structure, to turn the company into a conventional investment trust with outsourced fund management, shorn of the administration business.

However, Alliance is too entwined in Scottish politics to apply the slash-and-burn approach so familiar to Elliott. The Dundee employees must be treated carefully, which will take time. Until the end of the process, Elliott looks as though it is locked in to a holding which may prove hard to sell at anything other than a big discount to its underlying value. Be careful what you wish for.

Definitely not your usual suspect

Want to know how the markets will greet a controversial appointment? Leak to The Sunday Times. If there are signs of revolt, deny the story and blame the press. Or, nowadays, go to premier scoopist Mark Kleinman at Sky News. So it was that John Kingman, freshly into the Treasury’s out tray, was fingered as the next chairman of Legal & General.

It’s an unusual appointment, all right. He is miles away from the list of usual suspects. Not only is Mr Kingman 13 years younger than his CEO, but his extensive experience excludes anything remotely like chairing a large, complex corporation. However, there are no signs of revolt, so he looks like a shoe-in. Rather than the quasi-political appointee he appears to be, he may turn out to be an inspired choice, but it is another sign that L&G is not going to be your run-of-the-mill life office.

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