I very rarely watch films in bed – mostly because the television in my bedroom is ancient and prone to turning itself off half way through a film. Or you get the picture but no sound – very frustrating. However last Monday (Bank Holiday), with both daughters and granddaughter away and as it was bucketing down with rain, I ended up staying in bed to watch Flash Gordon and the TV, in charitable mode, actually worked. I’ve never watched this film all the way through and every now and then, I enjoy watching something deliciously ridiculous. So a pleasant morning.
But my mind always strays whatever film I’m watching and something Ming the Merciless said to Flash, made it stray again. Ming suggested he would like to have Flash on his side and he would give him an entire planet of his own where Flash could rule over everyone, in exchange for his loyalty. The planet was Earth and Ming confirmed he would do such terrible things to the planet prior to handing it over, Flash would not recognise the people on Earth. “You’ll make them slaves” Flash suggests? “Let’s just say they’ll be satisfied with less” Ming replies (that’s from memory, so don’t quote me but you get the gist).
It made me think of the relationship we earthlings have with our so called ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the financial sector. There was a time when we, as the customer, expected and even assumed the people running banks were decent, professional, ethical and even helpful people. Just like the people on the adverts and a bank manager was such a pillar of the establishment, he could even sign your passport. As for the CEO or Chairman of a bank? They were, quite naturally, beyond reproach.
Times have changed radically and, while I don’t suggest the majority of employee’s in the financial sector are intentionally bad people, most of us don’t bat an eyelid now even when we hear how banks (bankers) are laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, manipulating LIBOR or screwing their customers every which way. Worse than that, we seem to have accepted the ridiculous myth no-one is personally to blame for any criminal conduct in the banking world and senior bankers should still get bonuses for running what are, in some cases, organised crime syndicates. How did that happen? When did we accept becoming a banana republic?
One of the things we are possibly all agreed on – and even bankers – is how over extended credit was a major contributory factor to the credit crunch. People with low incomes were encouraged to take on mortgages they couldn’t afford; banks were issuing credit cards like they were ‘Smarties’; businesses were getting massive loans and; even students with no incomes were offered big overdrafts. Of course no one had to accept any of these loans but, in a consumer society where “credit is good for the economy” was the motto of the day and, as the rise in house prices became totally out of sync with what people earned, many people did. And while some of the public pushed themselves to the absolute maximum in the borrowing stakes, the banks, who based their bonus structures on loans, went even further.
Then the crunch came and suddenly the huge and fundamental difference between the people (who the banks had willingly lent money to) and the banks, became horribly transparent. The banks got all or most of the money they lost back from the taxpayer (the people) on the grounds they would re-float the economy – which they didn’t do. Meanwhile the people had no one to bail them out and, almost overnight, this situation was exacerbated when the banks started aggressively demanding back the money they’d lent consumers. It was a double whammy – the credit crunch caused mass austerity on the one hand (cuts in every aspect of public funding except MPs and bankers’ wages) and, on the other hand, not only did future credit dry up, the terms for existing credit were harshly altered – although the terms and conditions which enabled this were always in the small print, tucked away discreetly for a rainy day.
I’m not talking about PPI or LIBOR or IRSA or even major bank frauds here – just how the basic principles of the bank / consumer relationship, changed. The banks, who were so eager to extend credit one day, were demanding it back with menaces the next. And the methods they’ve used over the last 6 years are often akin to those used by the playground bully. Here’s a couple of examples:
Bank of Scotland has been ordered to compensate a customer for harassment after it made an astonishing 547 calls to recover a debt. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/banking/2013/07/bullying-bank-ordered-to-pay-up-for-harassing-customer-know-your-rights
‘You have 24 hours’: Devastating tape reveals how RBS accused of bullying warned struggling chain of chemists it could call in the administrators http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2516063/Tape-reveals-RBS-warned-chain-chemists-administrators.html#ixzz3BaDHrbWr
(Sorry – the above link, is temporarily not working)
Every bad thing about banks got horribly worse after the historic events of October 2008 when Gordon (Brown that is, not Flash) and his chums created a completely different pecking order in the country he was supposedly running as a democracy. And sadly, I have to conclude the end result has caused Britain to be a ‘State of Anxiety.’
Fear has always been an efficient if immoral tool to control large numbers of people. People who are frightened tend not to ‘rock the boat.’ Most of us don’t have grandiose ambitions and it’s the idea of losing the simple basics in life we’ve worked hard for, that cause the greatest fear. Therefore, regardless of how bad the game has become, we keep playing it. We don’t worry about getting run over by a bus because we don’t think it will ever happen. We don’t worry a meteorite will smash into earth and we’ll be obliterated because we know there’s nothing we could do about it. But the idea of losing your family home for instance, is a situation that cripples people with fear. I know because I’ve been through 22 eviction hearings. My particular case, or cases, were complicated and I can’t go into detail because of Operation Hornet and sub judice. But whatever the reason anyone is staring eviction in the face, the sickening fear of it becoming a reality, is always the same. It’s debilitating and crushing.
So paying your mortgage to keep your house is a number one priority which means, at all costs, you must keep your job (even if you hate your job because the new corporate order means you are asked to do things you feel are morally unacceptable). Paying that mortgage to the bank is definitely going to keep you playing the game.
But what happens if you lose your job because your employer was one of the thousands of SME owners who have been sent to the wall (administration or liquidation) by the banks who have unethically demanded long term loans be paid back overnight? Or if you worked for an SME that was a creditor of a company forced into administration which has, as a consequence, then hit the wall itself? What happens if, through no fault of your own, there is no job to pay the mortgage?
In those instances it’s an amazingly short scenario to the really basic problem of things like food. Benefits are few and far between these days (cutting those on benefits also cuts the numbers of unemployed). Who would have believed hundreds of thousands of people in Britain would have to rely on food banks? How frightening is it when you have to rely on charity to feed your family? And it happened so quickly – austerity, job losses, benefit cuts and food banks.
I could go on – electricity, travel costs, school fees, health care, old age with inadequate pensions…. what it all adds up to is anxiety and fear for a lot of people. And when people live with fear, just keeping your head above water is a priority. Questioning why you are in that situation becomes a secondary consideration – first you have to survive.
Meanwhile, the masters of the universe most responsible for where we are – what’s happened to them? In the majority of cases they have just continued to receive mega fees, bonuses and pension pots for failing with vigour. Should we feel sorry for the likes of James Crosby, who lost his knighthood and even had to forego a third of his six figure pension pot? I think most people don’t even care. Their own personal angst totally and reasonably excludes the bigger picture. Which is very convenient for those who do their best to make us forget how we got to where we are.
The comments from Ming the Merciless made me think – has the aftermath of the credit crunch brow beaten us all to the point we ‘except less’ and ‘accept the unacceptable’? Is this why we don’t shout and scream when shareholders (including the taxpayer), who’ve already lost a fortune in banks like HBOS, RBS and Lloyds, see millions of pounds being paid in fines for criminal conduct in banks as opposed to holding CEOs and Chairmen to account for what happens on their watch? Is this why we unbelievably seem to accept one law for the masses and one for the elite? Much as I hate the very idea, I think that may well be the case and I even wrote to David Cameron asking for him for some clarification on this point:
Dear Mr Cameron,
I and many other people were stunned by the quotes from the chief executive-designate of the Prudential Regulation Authority, which were reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (December 14th, 2012).
Mr Bailey seems to have confirmed that, irrespective of their criminal actions, banks are not only “too big to fail”; they are also “too big to prosecute”. In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Bailey said that prosecuting banks and by implication their executive and non-executive directors,
“would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.”
Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted ……..
……..If justice is indeed now a ‘private members’ club’, then it is to up to you, Mr Cameron, to explain this to the British public. And, as I am sure you are aware, there is a real danger that the country will descend into lawlessness if the law is unevenly applied and enforced. If you really intend proceeding down the path seemingly advocated by Mr Bailey, then you risk going down in history as the Prime Minister who did more than any other to undermine the legitimacy of the British state……
I have never had a reply to my letter and the lack of reply speaks volumes.
My point: Has the so called ‘credit crunch’ worked out badly for everyone? Or has it enabled some very sinister aspects of society to come to the forefront and control us all via economic fear? I think that is exactly what’s happened. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Here’s the definition of that saying from the Cambridge Dictionaries on line: “said to emphasize that the person who is paying someone to do something can decide how it should be done”
There is no doubt the banks can afford to pay the piper – and how crazy is it our elected representatives gave the banks that money from the public purse? They gave the banks so much money, it seems even Governments can no longer call up a good tune these days.
Of course, in the film (and the comics), Flash Gordon never gives in to the likes of Ming. He risks everything to save the world. I can’t help feeling our modern day equivalents, who endlessly profess to be fighting for the greater good (especially running up to elections), have gone completely off track – and they only ever seem to save the inhabitants of La La land – which is a very small island somewhere between the Cayman Islands and Monte Carlo. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for capitalism – who doesn’t want to be rich? I lived in a Communist Country for two years and it was like – well actually it was similar to what we have in Britain now – some very wealthy and very arrogant people suppressing the rights of ordinary people. We have the same kind of lunacy now masquerading as democracy. If it was just happening in a cartoon or a film, I would maybe call it deliciously ridiculous. In real life, it’s not the least bit entertaining and it’s very disturbing. And not least because the authorities we all thought we could rely on (after all we vote for them), are the very people who are allowing this absurd situation to continue. Where will it end?
BTW, you may remember, at the end of the Flash Gordon film, a random hand reaches out and takes the ‘all powerful’ ring Ming wore. Clearly Ming wasn’t really dead and was just biding his time before having another go at world domination (there’s always one). I am reliably informed Ming the Merciless is currently residing in La La Land rent free, in exchange for doing a bit of consultancy work for the great and good.
I don’t particularly like August. It doesn’t mean holiday time for my family – it just means a month when Paul and I can make little progress towards ever having a holiday because everyone to do with the HBOS scam we’re determined to see exposed, is on holiday. Still, this year August has at least given me some quiet time to continue with my book, which is going well. I can even say I’m enjoying writing it now even although it is taking me back over some very dark times including 22 eviction hearings because, for HBOS/LBG, screwing my business wasn’t enough and they wanted my home as well.
I’ve put as much humour as possible into the book because, as in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ story, I can see that what people really enjoy knowing about, is the excesses and madness of the banking world. They want to be entertained and disgusted at the same time – which is maybe why the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is a rather one sided story or ‘romp’ that focused entirely on events in ‘La La Land’ but totally ignored the effects banking or bankers have had on the rest of the world. All the same, the film was entertaining and, let’s face it, some of us might give bankers a bit more latitude if they looked like Leonardo de Caprio. But it also made me worry and contrary to what I have previously considered possible, I’m beginning to think maybe bankers are indeed starting to achieve Mafia status? We can’t control what they do but we can make great films about them. Well, if that’s the way we’re going, let’s do it – I have just the script. Although casting could be a bit of an issue with our Britbank villains.
However, there is one overwhelmingly depressing thing that really pains me while I’m writing the book about my own experience with banks and bankers – over the last 7 years and despite bucket loads of rhetoric from Governments, regulators and the endless committees who have, apparently, investigated the causes of the ‘credit crunch’, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. And that’s bad.
I have this horrible gut feeling that, while everyone, including bankers, insist that what we all want is a better banking system devoid of excessive risk, dodgy derivatives and dubious standards, actually, what the banking world really want is to carry on with “business as usual.” In reality, what’s happening now is an even bigger whitewash than all those we’ve already had. While the headlines insist bankers are about to get their comeuppance and even the SFO are threatening to investigate bank malpractice, behind the scenes and very casually, the right people are being put into the right places to make sure the cracks in the walls get a new round of sticky plaster. The ‘revolving door’ is quietly turning again. But moving the chairs around on the Titanic, didn’t do any good after the last credit crunch and moving the same chairs again, won’t stop another crash. Yet again, we have senior bankers acting as regulators – it doesn’t work.
For example, looking back many people, including me, would say HBOS, in the years running up to the credit crunch, became an absolute basket case of a bank. With hindsight even PCoBS, the TSC and the Regulator, would have to agree. Point 137 (page 44) from the PCoBS report into HBOS (HBOS – An Accident Waiting To Happen. April 2013) concludes under the heading of “Conclusion – a manual for bad banking”:
The downfall of HBOS provides a cautionary tale. In many ways, the history of HBOS provides a manual of bad banking which should be read alongside accounts of previous bank failures for the future leaders of banks, and their future regulators, who think they know better or that next time it will be different. We will ourselves seek to draw further lessons from the case of HBOS as we frame recommendations for the future in our final Report. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201213/jtselect/jtpcbs/144/144.pdf
You can take your pick of damning extracts from the FSA Bank of Scotland Public Censure Report (March 2012) but I think point 4.14 explains a lot about the seemingly star struck Exec’s of BoS and their ‘risky’ management:
In relation to large leveraged transactions, these deals involved lending over £75 million or a substantial equity investment which meant they had to be sanctioned by the Executive Credit Committee. There was a significant increase in the volume and complexity of deals that this committee approved during 2006 and 2007. There were 199 approvals of lending in excess of £75 million in 2006 (which represented total
lending of £56 billion), which increased to 361 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £96.2 billion). There were 56 approvals of lending over £250 million in 2006 (which represented total lending of £36.2 billion), which increased to 110 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £64 billion. The size of these transactions meant that any default would have a high impact on the book http://www.fsa.gov.uk/static/pubs/final/bankofscotlandplc.pdf
I’m interested in that extract because it confirms how the excessive loans to companies like Corporate Jet Services Ltd http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-the-cameron-crony-the-private-jet-company-and-a-crash-landing-that-cost-taxpayers-100m-9350090.html had to have been authorised by very senior people in the Bank and not, as LBG would have us believe, by a regional bank manager. But in truth, it wasn’t just BoS that was running amok – it was the whole of HBOS. But the FSA didn’t censor HBOS and maybe because the CEO of HBOS held a senior position in the FSA ?
I remember having a conversation with Bill Sillett (the named respondent for any queries about the Censure Report) who visited Paul and I in April 2012. I asked him back then why the Report only covered the period from 2006 to 2008 when I know for a fact HBOS was acting like a fruit loop from at least 2002. Here’s his reply, taken from my notes of the meeting 11th April 2012:
BS spoke briefly about the time scales of the FSA report and why they chose the period 2006 to 2008. He said Crosby was effectively out of the bank in that period. He said they chose that narrow remit because going back further could have involved another year of work.
I think “Crosby was effectively out of the Bank in that period” is highly significant. Obviously, had the report highlighted poor management of BoS when Crosby was the CEO of HBOS (parent of BoS), it would have caused a few red faces for the FSA. But what I still find amazing is – Mr Crosby may have come out of the Bank in 2006 but, from November 2007, he went from being a Director of the FSA to Deputy Chairman – and that was in the same period when HBOS was already under heavy scrutiny by the Bank of England. And even when the proverbial hit the fan in October 2008 and HBOS got the secret £25.4BN, apparently no one in the Tripartite Authority felt it was inappropriate for Sir James, as he was then, to continue on as the Deputy Chair of the Authority most responsible for regulating banks!
I make the point in my book:
Aside from the fact the people advising the Bank of England on how to cope with various banks losing hundreds of billions of pounds were predominantly bankers (from commercial banks), I’m very confused by the fact Gordon’s chum, Sir James Crosby (now plain old Mr Crosby), the former CEO of HBOS until mid 2006, managed to retain his position of Deputy Chairman of the FSA right through the credit crunch, the bailouts and beyond? Did Gordon Brown realise the FSA were supposed to monitor the Banks so that such disasters couldn’t happen? Had he even heard of the FSA I wonder? (NEXT PASSAGE REDACTED)……..
……..So why did JC keep his position with the regulator? Possibly it was so his friends in high places, like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, who appointed him to oversee Government projects, wouldn’t get egg on their faces. In 2006 Gordon appointed JC to lead a ‘Public, Private Forum’ on Identity theft and in April 2008 Alistair Darling appointed him to advise the Government on how to “improve the functioning of the mortgage markets.” And then, of course, there was his knighthood in July 2006 for services to the financial industry.
Oh well, water under the bridge now and Sir James did eventually resign from the FSA in February 2009 when the allegations made by Paul Moore in 2004, could no longer be ignored. Although according to both the FSA and James Crosby, his departure was nothing to do with Paul Moore. Here’s a statement from La La land, as reported by the BBC 11th February 2009:
Sir James said in his statement that HBOS had “extensively investigated” Mr Moore’s allegations, concluding that they “had no merit”. Mr Moore was the former head of risk at HBOS.
“I nonetheless feel that the right course of action for the FSA is for me to resign from the FSA board, which I do with immediate effect,” Sir James added.
The FSA said: “[The] specific allegations made by Paul Moore in December 2004 regarding the regulatory risk function at HBOS were fully investigated by KPMG and the FSA, which concluded that the changes made by HBOS were appropriate.”
“It should also be noted that the FSA’s concerns about HBOS’ risk management framework considerably pre-dated the allegations by Mr Moore,” the FSA said in a statement.
Excuse me? The FSA’s concerns about HBOS pre-dated Paul Moore’s allegations and – what did they do about it? They made the CEO of HBOS a Director of the FSA in January 2004 and then promoted him to Deputy Chair. Confused – you should be.
Here’s the point – as at today’s date, the Chairman of the FCA, which took over from the FSA, is now John Griffith-Jones, who held the position of Chairman of KPMG at the time Mr Moore made his allegations and who must have sanctioned the report refuting those allegations. And, because, some would say that in the corporate world at least, “incest is best”, KPMG were also the auditors of HBOS at the time they prepared the report. I share the concerns of Ian Fraser – none of us should be reassured when the financial industry is so keen to ‘Keep it in the family.’ In June 2012, Ian wrote:
I was surprised and exasperated to learn last week that chancellor George Osborne has rubber-stamped the appointment of John Griffith-Jones, the senior partner of KPMG, as chairman-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, one of the two financial regulators that will take over from the soon-to-be-disbanded FSA. As the news of this “revolving door”,“poacher-turned-gamekeeper” appointment sank in, my disappointment bordered on outrage.
I was equally outraged Ian – and I begin to wonder what kind of ‘family’ the big banks and their auditors belong to? The Corleone family?
Meanwhile, over at the FRC, Sir Win Bischoff, former Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group (the parent of HBOS), has taken the post of Chairman while simultaneously becoming the Chair of a division of JP Morgan. You could not make it up!
I put up some details the other day about the history of the great and good on the Board of the PRA. https://spandaviablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/sir-win-bischoff-chairman-of-the-frc-and-also-a-chairman-of-jp-morgan-the-revolving-door-to-la-la-land-is-spinning-off-its-hinges/
Question: in the same way I sincerely doubt Sir James Crosby (as he was) was ever seriously going to let the FSA rumble the many and varied dodgy scenarios going on in HBOS while he was Deputy Chair, does anyone really believe John Griffith-Jones or Sir Win Bischoff are the right people to head up our regulators? Is Win Bischoff ever going to expose anything really bad that happened in Lloyds under his watch? Is Griffiths-Jones going to take action against KPMG or the HBOS audits under his watch. Is the forthcoming report into the failure of HBOS really going to highlight anything that would compromise those members of the ‘family’ who are still active?
Are we really on the road to reform in our banking sector – or have the powers that be, just made moved the chairs on the Titanic yet again and put the same established and reliable old foxes in place to guard the chicken coups? In my opinion, all this talk of reform is just tokenism.
I am fully aware the PRA are in the process of preparing the report on the failure of HBOS. I am also aware – as is Paul Moore – they fully intend to exclude issues that were fundamental to the Banks’ failure. Apparently, some of the really catastrophic or even criminal conduct in HBOS, is not considered relevant and consequently, is not part of the PRA remit. Yet again, they are not going against ‘the family.’
Talking to my twitter friends in the last few days, some of whom are in the process of taking legal action against various banks, I begin to wonder how much money banks are paying in legal fees these days? And I’m also wondering how much it would cost them to simply compensate people making serious allegations against them as opposed to going to Court? Would it be cheaper? Who knows but in cases where the evidence is indisputable, it would certainly help a bank’s reputation.
But no – in so many cases, they just insist black is white or rather, they get their very costly lawyers to say it for them. And even a simple letter can cost them a fortune, depending who writes it.
For example, over the past 7 years, I’ve lost count of how many letters Paul and I have had from the various legal firms in HBOS/Lloyds employ and quite a lot of them have come from Denton Wilde Sapte (now called SR Dentons), on behalf of Peter Cummings, Lord Stevenson, the Boards of HBOS and then LBG. And, because Paul and I have apparently upset the Bank so much with our allegations, those letters came from the then Deputy Chairman of DWS, Rory McAlpine (he’s left Dentons, so we haven’t heard from him for quite a while). Not only that, he also trooped up to the Cambridge County Court 6 times at enormous cost to the Bank, or rather it’s shareholders, in an attempt to secure our eviction – which fortunately, didn’t happen and in which he was not instructed.
Mr McAlpine is no lightweight in the legal world and, as top lawyers and certainly Partners in the big law firms, demand and get top dollar, those letters will not have come cheap: Britain’s biggest law firms are shamelessly exploiting the maxim that “you get what you pay for”, with hourly fees at record levels of £850 an hour, according to new research. Independent 26 November 2013 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/justice-costs-fury-as-lawyers-fees-top-850an-hour-8965339.html
Admittedly most of the legal letters we’ve had from HBOS or Lloyds Banking Group, have been quite short (it takes a limited amount of words to say bugger off) but, as the letters they were replying to were generally rather long (we were trying our hardest to give them the full picture of what was going on in their HBOS Reading branch), it’s fair to assume that, between receiving instruction to write on behalf of the Bank’s Board, then reading our letters and writing the reply, Rory would have spent a couple of hours per letter. That’s at least £1700.00 per letter. Okay, so letters from someone like Mr McAlpine (who now advises Mr Abramovich) were always likely to be fairly costly but, even junior lawyers in the magic circle law firms get charged out at £450 – £500 an hour these days. Lets say £900 per letter. Then multiply that by 1000? 10,000?
Here’s some stats from Moneywise: In the last six months of 2013, Lloyds bank were the most complained about bank with 40,500 complaints going to the Financial Ombudsman; 2nd came Bank of Scotland, with 39,134 complaints to the FoS. http://www.moneywise.co.uk/news/2014-03-04/lloyds-tops-list-most-complained-about-banks
Erring on the side of caution, it would be fair to say about 150,000 people complained about Lloyds TSB or BoS in 2013. Many of those will have got the bog standard, in-house letters to say get lost but, assuming 20% merited at least one letter from the likes of Dentons or Herbert Smith or who ever is currently flavour of the month, at £900+ per letter, that works out at £27M – from one Bank.
Then add the fines – including the fines for handling customer complaints badly. In 2013, the FSA fined Lloyds Banking Group and BoS a total of £32,343,800.00. And that money was paid for (of course) by the shareholders. Did it do any good? Apparently not, because on 28th July this year Lloyds bank Plc and BoS were fined £105M for “serious misconduct relating to the Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS), the Repo Rate benchmark and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). http://www.fca.org.uk/firms/being-regulated/enforcement/fines
As part of the ‘agreement’ reached, Lloyds also had to pay £62M to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and £51M to the Department of Justice in the USA. And to top it all off, the bill for PPI payments from Lloyds has almost reached £10BN: The cost of the payment protection mis-selling scandal has hit more than £22bn after Lloyds Banking Group said it was setting aside an extra £1.8bn to compensate customers. It takes the cost for Lloyds alone to just short of £10bn after the bank, which is one-third owned by the taxpayer, revealed the extra costs in a surprise trading update less than two weeks before its annual results announcement.
Then there’s the various shareholder groups waiting to sue the Bank with group actions (one group is apparently suing for £4BN) and, of course, the many SME owners who are due compensation for the many and various ways their businesses have been destroyed by the Bank.
My point is: surely we have reached the stage where banks and bankers should start realising ‘crime does not pay.’ Yes it may have worked for years for the Mafia and Organised crime syndicates but they don’t have to worry about their reputations. If anything, their crimes have been glamorised by the media and the public and, whatever atrocious crimes they commit, end up, sooner or later, as blockbuster movies or spectacular TV series. But what works for Tony Soprano (RIP) just doesn’t work for bankers. Villains or professional criminals work with the motto “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Bankers, on the other hand, seem to have a motto of “we commit the crimes, the shareholders pay the fines but we always get our bonuses.” People are getting sick of it. Bankers make lousy bank robbers, they get caught all the time and worse than that, our regulators make lousy sheriffs, they do eventually catch the robbers but only penalise the victims (shareholders).
I read an article today by Mark Kleinman, Sky News, where he quoted Antonio Horta-Osorio saying:
“Enforcement and fines have an important role as a credible deterrent against future misconduct.
“But the new rules will potentially reverse the burden of proof where individuals are guilty until they prove themselves innocent in the eyes of the regulator.
“I worry that this could incentivise people to do nothing, as they could waste their time trying to create a paper trail rather than doing what they should be doing, focusing on customers.
“Secondly everyone makes mistakes. If you do a major thing wrong like causing the failure of a bank you should be held accountable for the decisions that you made. But we need to separate the major mistakes from the small ones which will always happen.”
I totally agree Mr H-O, everyone makes mistakes – but that’s where we part company. The mistakes Lloyds Bank sees as “small ones”, are actually the mistakes that ruin people’s lives. And, in the case of the many SMEs that have been totally trashed by HBOS/Lloyds, was that a mistake or was it, as it seems with GRG, a deliberate policy?
I get it that many of the mistakes Lloyds are dealing with now, were in relation to BoS, HBOS or the former management of Lloyds Banking Group but, unfortunately, it’s your watch now Mr H-O. In my opinion, it would be much better for Lloyds Bank to really deal with the skeletons of the past and then go back to traditional banking. The way things are going, a few more major fines, a couple of big group actions by unhappy shareholders, a lot more SME owners suing the bank and a few thousand more of those £900 legal letters – there won’t even be enough money left to buy hay for the black horse. As things stand, the only winners are the lawyers, who must be thoroughly satisfied with ‘bank conduct’, because its making them a fortune. And don’t get me started on auditors and administrators, who seem to be doing as well if not better than the ‘consigliere.’
p.s I wrote this blog last night (Friday 15th) and the first thing I’ve seen on twitter this morning is another article in the Daily Mail about the horrendous sales culture in Lloyds Bank. What’s wrong with this Bank? Is it trying to lose customers? And, considering the ongoing sales culture, how did the Bank manage to include the following in last year’s annual accounts (page 43 of Lloyds Banking Group 2013 results):
As a major financial services provider we face significant conduct risk, including selling products to customers which do not meet their needs; failing to deal with customers’ complaints effectively; not meeting customer expectations; and exhibiting behaviours which do not meet market or regulatory standards.
Customer focused conduct strategy implemented to ensure customers are at the heart of everything we do.
Product approval, review process and outcome testing supported by conduct management information.
Clearer customer accountabilities for colleagues, including rewards with customer-centric metrics.
Interesting day of research (always for the book) and many thanks to Ian Fraser, Tom Harper and Richard Brooks, for pointing me in some interesting directions, especially with reference to my recent blogs.
I started my new blog site with some details about the HBOS rights issue and the Lloyds/HBOS Merger, which, after reading the BoE report on the ELA given to HBOS and RBS in 2008 does, regrettably, seem to have been a rather unfortunate ‘con’ (I just can’t find a more PC word for it) on the shareholders of Lloyds and HBOS and also on the tax payer. I can say that, in the circumstances, I fully appreciate the Tripartite Authorities were definitely ‘over a barrel’ at the time but, all the same, the losers, as always, were the little people. All of us little people who now live with such austere conditions, that hundreds of thousands of people in Britain now rely on food banks:
A food bank charity says it has handed out 913,000 food parcels in the last year, up from 347,000 the year before. The Trussell Trust said a third were given to repeat visitors but that there was a “shocking” 51% rise in clients to established food banks. It said benefit payment delays were the main cause. In a letter to ministers, more than 500 clergy say the increase is “terrible”. The government said there was no evidence of a link between welfare reforms and the use of food banks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27032642
Paul has been out all day helping someone with a long running case against HBOS. When he came home, he asked if there were any interesting e-mail or tweets. I said Tom Harper tweeted me an article by Mark Kleinman about: The Chancellor has ruled out a sale of Lloyds shares to the public ahead of the next general election, Sky News can reveal.
I said to Paul (and I said on twitter) I didn’t think this was wise. If I was the Chancellor, I would off load those shares asap. As always, Paul pointed out the folly of my logic. I have just posted a document suggesting the lack of transparency over the HBOS/RBS ELA and the HBOS-Lloyds issue was, potentially, out of order and maybe even fraudulent. Imagine – the Government sell the shares in Lloyds now and then, down the road (and before the election) a scandal – any scandal – breaks about criminal conduct by the senior management of Lloyds Bank or its sick puppy HBOS, that causes the share price of Lloyds Banking Group to drop just after thousands of people have bought shares? Add that to what has already happened. Catastrophe. It’s not impossible in my view.
I think Tom, like Paul, has considered this possibility but me? Well I was so deeply immersed in other research, I didn’t add 1 + 1 up. So well done Mr Osborne, you clearly are wiser than I thought.
Actually, what I was concentrating on was the FRC. Following on from my blog yesterday about the appointment, as Chairman, of Sir Win Bischoff, first to the FRC and then to JP Morgan Europe, ME and Asia, I received two interesting articles from Ian Fraser on the topic. One article was about the extraordinary way in which the FRC had dropped its investigation into BAE Systems (another favourite of mine – and Tom’s http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-the-cameron-crony-the-private-jet-company-and-a-crash-landing-that-cost-taxpayers-100m-9350090.html ) and the article also said:
The FRC has form when it comes to letting ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PWC — off the hook. On April 11th, The Times’s Alex Spence revealed that the Financial Reporting Council had decided against probing ‘Big Four’ firms’ pre-crash audits of UK banks, simply because it wanted an easy life.
“There was a lack of will,” one well-placed insider told The Times. “There was a general reluctance to get into it. It would just be too disruptive, too damaging.”
The FRC has yet to make clear whether it is going to bother to launch a specific probe of KPMG’s role as auditor of the disastrous UK bank HBOS in 2001-08. It is apparently sitting on its hands while it waits to see the outcome of the FSA’s
whitewash report into the Edinburgh-based bank’s failure. http://www.ianfraser.org/britain-is-fast-turning-into-a-banana-republic-wilfully-blind-to-corruption/
The other article ian alerted me to was one he wrote for The Sunday Times. I can’t read it all because I can’t afford to subscribe (thanks HBOS/LBG) but I trust Ian enough to know it is entirely relevant to my issues about Sir Win and the FRC:
Sir Steve Robson, one of seven RBS non-executive directors to be purged last month, is facing calls to resign as non- executive director of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).
If Robson remains in his post, critics suggest the FRC could lose credibility. At RBS he was partly responsible for one of the largest bank collapses in UK history.
“The whole civil service ethos is that Caesar’s wife is above reproach,” said Robert Bertram, a corporate lawyer with experience as a non-executive director of listed companies, who served as a member of the Competition Commission.
“Whether or not Robson, a very distinguished public servant, has made his own position untenable, it seems the FRC itself has made it untenable …..http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/article156107.ece
All serious food for thought from my point of view and the icing on the cake was an article Richard Brooks sent me from Private Eye:
So, an interesting and worrying day. I keep thinking I have discovered important and interesting information. But of course the real ‘investigative journalists’ – and ian, Tom and Richard are three of the best – already know a lot of what I’ve discovered, they’ve published it and, the powers that be have ignored it – so I’m in good company.
Last bit of interesting news I got from my research today, was from the website of 33 Chancery Lane, the Chambers of John Black QC who is representing the Crown in the Operation Hornet case. Interestingly, while the CPS have not updated their version of events on their website, which refers to 8 defendants and losses of £35M in the Reading fraud, John Black QC has a more updated version:
Operation Hornet (2013-2014) – advising Attorney General, CPS and Thames Valley Police on prosecution of bankers at leading financial institution and other businessmen for corruption, money laundering and fraudulent trading. The forthcoming trials concern an alleged £245m fraud.
As I said, an interesting day.
I note it has been announced in the press today (12th August) that JP Morgan has appointed Sir Win Bischoff as chairman of its main legal entity in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. And here was me thinking Sir Win was out of Banking (he retired from Lloyds Banking Group Plc, Bank of Scotland Plc, HBOS Plc and Lloyds Bank Plc, on 3rd April 2014) and into regulation (he became chairman of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) on 1st May 2014). Then I realised I don’t really know what the FRC does – maybe it’s not a regulator in which case, being a chair at JP Morgan and also at the FRC, might not be the “fox in the chicken coup” scenario it seems.
I know what the FCA (formerly FSA) and the PRA do or purport to do but I’ve never really looked at the FRC. So I did and this is what it says about its role:
The Financial Reporting Council is the UK’s independent regulator responsible for promoting high quality corporate governance and reporting to foster investment. We promote high standards of corporate governance through the UK Corporate Governance Code. We set standards for corporate reporting, audit and actuarial practice and monitor and enforce accounting and auditing standards. We also oversee the regulatory activities of the actuarial profession and the professional accountancy bodies and operate independent disciplinary arrangements for public interest cases involving accountants and actuaries.
So, not necessarily a banking regulator but certainly a ‘bankers mates’ regulator. I looked up who exactly is subject to the FRC rules and regulations and who pays for this organisation?:
The Preparers Levy
By agreement with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and HM Treasury, the Financial Reporting Council is funded partly through a preparers levy on organisations that are subject to, or have regard to, FRC regulatory requirements in preparing their accounts. Companies and other organisations subject to the Preparers Levy are:
All companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with a Premium or Standard listing. (So it is a banking regulator as well) All UK AIM and ISDX (previously known as PLUS) Market group companies. All large private entities with a turnover of £500m or more Large private subsidiaries of listed companies are invoiced on the same invoice as their parent company. Global Depository Receipt companies. Government Departments and other public sector organisations
Basis for the Preparers: Levy Section 17 of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004, as amended by Part 44 of the Companies Act 2006, confers a power on the Secretary of Stateto make regulations enabling the FRC to recover its costs through a levy. Thus far, thispower has not been exercised. The FRC’s responsibilities are funded through non statutory arrangements on the basis of an understanding with the groups subject to the levy. However, should a voluntary approach prove unsustainable, the FRC will formally request that the statutory power be invoked.
I’m not too sure exactly what that means. Do any companies pay a ‘levy’ on a voluntary basis?And what are they paying for? To be regulated? To be protected? To be part of the club? Sounds a bit like a Mafia organisation getting in collection money to me. You don’t know exactly what you’re paying for – but they do. It continues:
The 2014/15 levy is made up of a minimum levy of £992 and further amounts payable by companies above a certain threshold, with the rate per £m declining in five levy size bands……
Anyway, whatever it means, what concerns me is the phrase “independent regulator responsible for promoting high quality corporate governance and reporting to foster investment.” In my opinion, the quality of corporate governance at Lloyds Banking Group or any of its affiliate companies, was anything but high quality. And that is fairly self explanatory by the the many and varied accusations levied at LBG. For example, the customer complaints as reported in the Telegraph:
“The ombudsman said Lloyds Banking Group was the most complained-about business group in 2013.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/money-saving-tips/10674042/Financial-Ombudsman-reports-record-complaints.html
And the latest massive fines levied on LBG for rigging LIBOR:
“The Bank of England (BoE) governor has warned Lloyds Banking Group that “clearly unlawful” conduct over fee manipulation may amount to criminal behaviour as it was fined more than £200m”http://news.sky.com/story/1308901/lloyds-risks-criminal-action-in-rigging-case
Or the way it continues to mistreat its staff and persuade them to mistreat its customers:
“Lloyds is continuing to pressurise staff to mis-sell credit cards, loans and insurance, a leaked email has revealed – just months after the bank was fined £28million for promoting a ruthless sales culture.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2721448/Secret-email-shows-Lloyds-pressures-threatens-staff-sales-just-months-fined-28m-mis-selling.html
And all of that is over and above the number of shareholders and investors waiting to sue Lloyds Banking Group over the merger with HBOS, the rights issue or just ripping them off in general.
I fail to see the logic of making the man who was chair of a clearly dysfunctional bank right up to March 2014, the new chair of an ‘independent’ body responsible for overseeing good ‘corporate governance’ in May 2014. And to top it off, he’s now the chair of a division of JP Morgan whose ‘high standards’ in corporate governance, beggar belief:
“US bank JP Morgan Chase has agreed to a record $13bn (£8bn) settlement with US authorities for misleading investors during the housing crisis. It is the largest settlement ever between the US government and a corporation.
The bank acknowledged it made “serious misrepresentations to the public”, but said it did not violate US laws.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25009683
To me, these latest appointments for Sir Win are not just the normal ‘revolving door’ scenario, this time the door has spun off its hinges and is now endlessly spinning at the gateway of La La Land. And, as if this could not get any more illogical, I checked out the other Board members of the FRC and found former members of KPMG and PwC, a managing partner at Clifford Chance, a former MD at JP Morgan, a retired head of E&Y, the Chief Executive of Standard Life and the former Deputy Chair of Barclays, who is now Chair of Legal and General. I kid you not, these are the people who will keep our major companies, corporations and their auditors in check.
Are we ever going to see this madness stop?
And of course I have my own personal reasons for doubting Sir Win’s ability to preserve ethical or high standards. Something to do with the 3 D’s – delay, deny, dilute for 3 years, then a criminal investigation for the next 4 years and a false bank account paying a £1000+ per hour lawyer to ensure (amongst other unethical things) my family were homeless. But that will all come out in the wash.
Following on from the last (and first) blog on my new site where I quoted the Bank of England’s explanation of the ELA support for HBOS and RBS, I would like to clarify the Treasury’s position – or at least the version I received. As I mentioned, the first payment of the ELA to HBOS was given on 1st October 2008 and peaked at £25.4BN on 13th November 2008. Like the rest of the population, I had no idea about this huge sum but I did know the situation with HBOS was extremely precarious by Oct 2008 and, in my view, some of the money it had lost was as a result of dubious or even criminal conduct. So, on the 6th October 2008, I wrote to Gordon Brown giving him chapter and verse about what Paul and I had uncovered and explaining why we felt the merger would potentially be a disaster.
On 20th October 2008 I received a reply from No 10 thanking me for my letter and saying: “Mr Brown felt pleased that you were able to write to him about your concerns, a careful note has been made of your comments. He has asked me to send a copy of your letter to HM Treasury as he feels it is important that they are made aware of your concerns and can send you any comments they may have. Yours Sincerely.”
The comments they had were, in the circumstances, less than transparent and not once did they mention the odd £25.4BN. But they did clarify the merger between HBOS and Lloyds TSB was, according to HM Treasury, entirely down to the shareholders of both Banks and therefore, nothing to do with Lloyds, HBOS nor the Government. So don’t go bleating or suing the Bank – it was all down to you guys! Here’s an extract from my book explaining the Treasury’s point of view:
“Back to Gordon and I’m guessing, also with hindsight, Mr Brown wishes he had just ignored my letter instead of asking his office to reply. In total I received three letters from No 10 and three letters from the Treasury, who apparently didn’t have any concerns about HBOS or the merger. In fact they didn’t even seem to realise it had happened and the first reply we got from the Treasury, dated February 2009, made reference to the ‘proposed merger’ expected to take place in January 2009:
“Thank you for your recent letter regarding the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). We have received a large volume of enquiries in recent days and so are not able to provide a specific response to you at this time. I hope that the information below is helpful and answers the questions you raised.
The proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September. Both Lloyds TSB and HBOS shareholders have voted in favour, and it is expected to take effect during January 2009 subject to the approval of the Scottish courts. HBOS shareholders will receive 0.605 Lloyds TSB shares for every HBOS share. The decision on the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was and remains a matter for shareholders.”
All things considered, it probably would have been better if the shareholders had reached their decisions retrospectively! Not least because responsibility for the merger seems to have been laid exclusively with them. On 16th March 2009, we received a second letter from the Treasury saying:
“Thank you for your letter of 6th October 2008 to Mr Gordon Brown on the merger between Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). I am replying as Minister responsible for this policy area. I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.
On Monday 13th October, in implementing the measures announced on 8th October, the Chancellor announced that the Government would be underwriting capital investments for Royal Bank of Scotland and, on successful merger, for HBOS and Lloyds TSB.
A proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS was announced on 18th September, and became effective on 16 January 2009 following shareholder and other approvals. The decision on the merger was a matter for the shareholders of both institutions. …”
On 15th May 09 we received a third letter from the Treasury which was basically a copy paste of the second letter – which was more or less a copy paste of the first letter but with corrected time scales. All three letters contained details of the HBOS recapitalisation – how much was being raised and from where. I’m not sure their explanations really clarified exactly how much money the Government was giving HBOS or Lloyds but, crucially, the letters failed to mention the small matter of the £25.4BN given to HBOS:
“On 19th November, Lloyds TSB shareholders voted in favour of its merger with HBOS and approved plans to raise £5.5 billion by issuing £4.5 billion of new ordinary shares and £1 billion of special preference shares. In relation to the newly issued ordinary shares, the shares were made available for acquisition by existing Lloyds TSB shareholders. To the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed for £1 billion of preference shares
On 12 December 2008, HBOS shareholders voted in favour of the merger. In the case of HBOS, £8.5billion of newly issued ordinary shares were made available for acquisition by existing HBOS shareholders. Again, to the extent that such shares were not acquired by existing shareholders (or other third parties) the Treasury has done so. The Treasury has also subscribed to £3billion of newly issued preference shares in the capital of HBOS.
A range of conditions are attached to the recapitalisation package. Lloyds TSB and HBOS have agreed that over the next three years they will maintain the availability and active marketing of competitively priced lending to homeowners and to small businesses at 2007 levels. They will also provide support for schemes to help people struggling with mortgage payments to stay in their homes and the expansion of financial capability initiatives. The remuneration of senior executives will follow strict guidelines – both for 2008 (when the Government expects no cash bonuses to be paid to board members) and for remuneration policy going forward (where incentives schemes will be reviewed and linked to long-term value creation, taking account of risk, and restricting the potential for “rewards for failure”). The Government will also be consulted on the appointment of new independent non-executive directors…” [End of book excerpt]
Make what you will of that but what I make of it is: the shareholders of HBOS and Lloyds are responsible for the merger; the new Bank will, on instruction from the Government, be enormously supportive to home owners and SMEs; bonuses will not be paid to Board members and; I’m a China man. We didn’t know what we were handing to HBOS (or RBS) back then and, as it turns out, the terms and conditions of the bailouts were a lot less realistic or memorable than the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not posting this because I’m a Conservative supporter. I don’t think Mr Cameron has been any more supportive to the taxpayer in the case of Public v Banks than Gordon Brown. At the end of the day “it’s all about the money” and let’s face it we, the taxpayers, don’t have any, we gave it all to the banks. So whoever we vote for we shouldn’t really be surprised when, whatever party wins the election next year, politicians continue to vote for the banks.