No reason for celebration
’ll have to seriously scour the news feeds to find it, but something fairly significant happened last week.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) handed over a report to the Treasury select committee. Nothing particularly special about that – until you learn how accusations have been flying around that the regulatory watchdog had previously misled MPs with selective information.
The report is question is about the “systemic” mistreatment meted out by the tax-payer owned Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to thousands of its small business clients after the 2008 banking crisis.
We know this because a leaked copy says so, in uncompromising terms.
The allegations centre on the highly questionable activities of the bank’s former Global Restructuring Group (GRG). This specialist section was meant to help small businesses recover but in fact preyed on them, pushing many over the edge into bankruptcy.
A GRG memo talks about selling clients services that they “normally cannot afford” and “missed opportunities mean missed bonuses”.
It also encourages pursuing “basket case” clients for work, stating that “sometimes you need to let customers hang themselves”.
An independent 361-page third party report was first commissioned by the FCA four years ago but had not been made available in its entirety. They have been holding back the full extent of the details on the grounds of being unable get consent from witnesses.
It took an unprecedented threat by the select committee itself to unilaterally publish the leaked document before the regulator handed over a complete version last Friday.
To say that it is unusual for regulatory bodies to be locked in stand-offs with parliamentary committees is a massive understatement.
The committee meets today and it’s likely that RBS bosses who have previously appeared before MPs will be invited to revise their statement that predatory behaviour within the restructuring group was "isolated".
We can also expect that the ‘independent’ role and remit of the FCA will come under vigorous scrutiny in light of recent events.
RBS on the other hand already has a badly tarnished record in the eyes of many firms.
One South Wales businessman - who I can’t name for ongoing legal reasons - can relate the time he walked into a ‘routine’ meeting with the bank only to be told his previously viable property assets had been devalued and his credit withdrawn.
Those assets were then transferred to the firm who had done the revised valuation. In 2008, the nation plunged itself into debt in order to haul spendthrift banks out of the proverbial. Amazingly, many of them behaved like nothing had happened; Bollinger and bonuses remained intrinsically part of the culture.
Government admonitions have been weak and without sanction.
Later this week, RBS is expected to announce a profit for its shareholders for the first time in 10 years but many will feel that the means by which that has been achieved are no reason for celebration.