Crosby was knighted for services to the financial industry in 2006, but offered to renounce his knighthood in 2013 following the official report into the collapse of HBOS. The Honours Forfeiture Committee considered his request and his knighthood was formally cancelled and annulled on 6 June 2013.
Crosby was born in Leeds. He was educated at the Lancaster Royal Grammar School between 1967 and 1974. After leaving the school, he continued his studies in mathematics at Brasenose College, Oxford.
Crosby joined financial services company Scottish Amicable (acquired in 1997 by Prudential plc) in 1977. After qualifying as a Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries in 1980, he was a founding director of J Rothschild Assurance in 1991, which went on to become wealth manager St. James's Place plc.
Crosby joined the Halifax bank in 1994 as Managing Director of Halifax Life. Five years later, he became the chief executive of Halifax plc, and in 2001 Crosby became the first chief executive of the newly formed HBOS Group after overseeing the merger between Halifax plc and the Bank of Scotland. In early 2006 Crosby resigned after seven years as chief executive leaving HBOS as the fourth largest bank in the United Kingdom in terms of market capitalisation. His position was taken by "his young protégé" Andy Hornby in July 2006. In April 2013, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards assigned the primary responsibility for the collapse of HBOS to Crosby, along with Dennis Stevenson and Andy Hornby. The commission urged the regulator to ban all three men from the industry.
Controversially, Crosby was appointed in January 2004 by HM Treasury as a non-Executive Director of the Financial Services Authority whilst still CEO of HBOS. In November 2007 he became Deputy Chair of the FSA, and in February 2009 he resigned this role.
During a session of the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons on 10 February 2009, it was alleged that Sir James had ignored warnings by its former head of Group Regulatory Risk, Paul Moore, relating to risky business practices. Moore had predicted that HBOS's rapid growth left it vulnerable to a large number of borrower defaults. In 2005 the whistleblower Moore was sacked by Crosby, with Moore quoted as saying that Crosby wrote "The decision (to sack Moore) was mine and mine alone." Moore related the key issues in his statement:
On 11 February 2009 Crosby resigned from his post at the Financial Services Authority, which BBC News Business Editor Robert Peston says he understood was to protect the FSA from controversy. The FSA released a statement late on 11 February 2009 that it had concerns about HBOS before the Moore resignation, a statement which raises yet more questions about the regulation of HBOS. A central problem concerns conflict of interests between board members of the FSA and the companies it is trying to regulate. However, Moore has received support from a former member of his team at HBOS, Anthony Smith, who on 17 February 2009, accused HBOS of "dumbing down".
Crosby was further criticised when, following the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds, HBOS was responsible for annual losses of £10 billion, in part due to write-downs made because Lloyds' accounting standards are much more conservative than those of HBOS. Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said that the government's bank bailout money had been wiped out by the HBOS losses, saying that "HBOS bankers like James Crosby bear a heavy responsibility".
On 11 July 2006, Crosby was appointed by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to lead the Government's Public Private Forum on Identity Management, a scheme designed to counter problems such as identity fraud. Also in 2006, Crosby received a knighthood for services to the financial industry.
In April 2008, Crosby was appointed by Chancellor Alastair Darling to head up a Working Group of mortgage industry experts to advise the Government on how to improve the functioning of the mortgage market.
In 2006, Crosby was appointed to lead Gordon Brown's Identity Assurance review.
Crosby is a non-executive director of television company ITV, and a trustee of charity Cancer Research UK.
In January 2009, it was reported that James Crosby would become the Chairman of Misys.
On 3 December 2012 Crosby was required to appear before the British Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards over his role as Chief Executive during the Collapse of HBOS. Britain's Daily Mail reported:
Crosby, chief executive of Halifax Bank of Scotland from 2001 to the Summer of 2006, said: 'I'm very sorry about what happened.'
Asked what he was apologising for, he responded: 'I'm apologising for the fact that I played a major part in building a business that failed.' He added: 'I wasn't there for the last few years but it would be wrong to disassociate myself from what happened… I was horrified and deeply upset by what happened – it was hugely distressing to see what happened to shareholders, colleagues and taxpayers.' Pat McFadden MP asked if Crosby understood the public's anger towards the former bosses at HBOS. He added: 'Is it fair that one knight is stripped of his knighthood and others carry on regardless?'
Britain's Financial Times reported:
Sir James was evasive on whether he would consider giving up his knighthood, saying that it was a 'huge honour' at the time but added: 'I am in no doubt that my reputation and achievement will never again be seen in the same light.'
Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, was stripped of his knighthood this year. The former HBOS manager also said he did not think he would be granted permission to run a bank again. His successor Andy Hornby, who was at the helm of HBOS when it nearly collapsed in 2008, reiterated in a separate testimony at the commission his 'heartfelt apologies for what had happened at HBOS'. The two former chief executives’ grilling came as Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s executive director in charge of financial stability, said the impact of the banking crisis was 'as bad as a world war'.
'Whitehall’s honours forfeiture committee met in recent days and accepted Mr Crosby’s request for him to lose his knighthood.'