Category Archives: Fines

If you don’t identify the crimes or the criminals, you don’t have to support the victims.

There was an interesting article in the Guardian today on the subject of Lady Newlove’s report into the lack of support for victims of crime. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/27/victims-crime-let-down-criminal-justice-newlove I agree with her entirely – there is very little support. Equally interesting was the comments below the article.

For example, someone posted we are all more likely to be victims of financial crime than being mugged in the street. I would agree because PPI, IRHP, LIBOR rigging, asset theft (GRG) and various other fraudulent schemes, all have their victims – not that I am in anyway decrying the horrific consequences of violent crime.

However, there is a huge problem when it comes to financial crime. First and foremost, it is rarely classified as crime. It has various bogus titles and the most common is mis-selling. Also, financial crime is a political animal and as such, it seems to feel it is reasonable it should fall outside of the boundaries of common law. It shouldn’t do but it does. This is probably because any major case exposing the horrendous corruption in our financial system would have far reaching political and economic consequences. Not only would it risk serious ‘Brand protection’ to financial institutions, it would also damage UKPLC. Therefore even if you report serious and fully substantiated financial fraud to the police, you are unlikely to get an investigation – so you are unlikely to get a result.

Anyone challenging this view should consider why, when Banks are found guilty of money laundering for drug cartels, or of rigging LIBOR (which affects everyone), or of selling fraudulent products to consumers and SMEs, the answer is invariably a huge fine paid by the Bank shareholders? But no one goes to jail.

Occasionally and if you are incredibly persistent, the police will open an investigation into specific crimes by bankers or their associates in the financial system and, I can say from experience, that despite the initial euphoria victims may feel when this happens, what follows is a long drawn out process which gives little or no consideration to victims or to the consequences of those crimes. And while I adhere to the theory of “every man is innocent until proven guilty,” a justice system which takes years and years to bring cases to trial means that some victims, suffering badly from the effects of a crime, will have their lives on hold for an indefinite period. Some die before they ever see justice and that is a fact. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”(See below)

Take for example the case (which I won’t name for reasons of sub judice) where some 80 SMEs were first defrauded and then destroyed by employees and associates of a High Street bank. This was first exposed by the victims in 2007 but the police refused to investigate because the bank concerned assured them there was nothing to investigate. However, in 2010 and under the radar, a different police force did start an investigation. By the end of 2010 several people had been arrested but no one was charged until 2013. The trials for those people charged with assorted serious crimes were due to start in January this year but have now been put back to September and will finish in 2016 – if they happen at all. 2007 to 2016 is a long time to wait for justice. Three people have died while waiting.

The victims have lost their businesses, therefore their livelihoods and in many cases their family homes. They are all due compensation – but that won’t happen until after the trials as the management of the bank concerned are adamant no crime was committed (even although the Bank was the biggest loser of all) and the police have spent a fortune of public money on a witch hunt.

In the meantime there is little communication between the police and the victims except for the odd brief e-mail. The victims are dissuaded and even threatened not to attend any case management hearings – so they don’t know how the case is progressing (or not in this case) and if ‘victim support’ are aware of this crime, they haven’t acknowledged it. I know most of the victims – I don’t know any who have had any support.

The defendants on the other hand, are kept fully briefed by their legal teams (some of whom are paid for by legal aid), they continue to work or trade their businesses (which haven’t been destroyed) and some have requested and been given their passports back as and when they want to go on holiday abroad. Fair enough, they have not been found guilty as yet.

My point – most people in this Country are asking (quite reasonably) why bankers, who have already been found guilty of various crimes for which their shareholders have been penalised, have not been charged or gone to jail? I would say it is because the majority of the really serious crimes had to have happened with at least the knowledge and possibly the authorisation of those at the top of the Banks – not to mention key figures in associated ‘professional’ firms. But if Governments (via the justice system) start admitting our banks have been and are being run by criminals, it would destabilise our much loved financial system. So, even where a case does slip through the radar and bankers are charged with crimes, the main consideration seems to be how the authorities can limit contagion and, if possible, stop these trials actually going to Court. A valiant attempt was made to stop Operation Cotton and therefore other big financial fraud and VHCC (very high cost cases) from proceeding, via the legal aid débâcle. Fortunately it wasn’t successful.

And the victims? Well, better a few victims fall by the wayside than we tarnish the City of London. But actually it’s not a ‘few victims’ because we are all victims of financial crime and we are all paying the price (national austerity) while the charade goes on. And what a charade it is – after all that has happened and after banks brought world economies to their knees, top bankers demand and still get millions of pounds a year. And once a year they head off to Davos with the great and the good, to decide our economic future for the following 12 months. It’s not just illogical and unethical – it’s bonkers.

Great to see Lady Newlove has written a report and identified the lack of support for victims but, in the case of financial crime, which has reached epidemic proportions in the UK, the biggest hurdle to our justice system is a refusal to identify the criminals. Cost effective and sneaky but not democratic.

  • On the subject of “justice delayed is justice denied” and while I was looking for the origins of that quote, I randomly came across an extraordinary dark example of how this statement is sometimes abused by the very authorities we rely on for justice. The case is nothing to do with financial crime and the victim in the case is the accused. And this highlights yet again how important it is to democracy that justice is seen to be done and in a timely manner. I would say in too many cases, it isn’t. http://www.innocent.org.uk/cases/Karl%20Watson%20-%20Woffinden%20art.pdf

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Bank of England Minutes v The Bank of England Plenderlieth Report

Just a very quick blog – mostly a copy paste job because I am very confused by the Bank of England Minutes 07-09 which were published today. I have to admit I have not read the entire document but, as of September 2007 I am surprised the minutes did not contain masses of detail and concern about HBOS (Fox) or Lloyds (Lark).

Here’s why:

In October 2012 the Bank of England presented the Plenderleith Report to the Court. I went through this report with a fine tooth comb because of some work I was doing with Paul Moore. And I came to the conclusion that, even although it did little good to the economy, the Bank of England, albeit frustrated by a lack of data from the FSA, was closely monitoring HBOS by September 2007.

I have very quickly I have taken out the salient points which highlight this position:

Executive Summary
8.
In relation to the specific vulnerabilities of the two banks to which the Bank eventually
extended ELA, the Bank was able to identify in advance, and to monitor, the increasing
liquidity strains thatHBOS was experiencing during 2008. There was significantly less close
focus on the liquidity position of RBS, but its funding problems did not in fact crystallise untila late stage, after the failure of Lehman Brothers.
9.
In relation to both banks, however,and indeed to the process of monitoring the risks to
individual banks in general, the Bank’s ability to identify impending threats in concrete terms was made more difficult by an underlap that had developed in the regulatory structure.Initially at any rate, the Bank was dependant on the FSA for liquidity data on individual banks; but the data available to the FSA were not forward looking and
lacked the granular detail the Bank required for an operational response like ELA. Equally, while the Bank could identify the threat that vulnerabilities in individual banks posed to wider systemic stability, the FSA was less closely focused on the deteriorating systemic picture. Under the pressure of events, this underlap was progressively bridged during the course of 2008, but it hampered how far in advance the Bank could get a clear view of the strains building up on individual banks.
10.
Since the funding difficulties being experienced by HBOS were identified at an early stage,
well in advance of its need for ELA crystallising in October 2008, the Review suggests that,
where there is advance awareness of such strains, the Bank might consider acting pre
emptively to provide bilateral liquidity support before the need becomes immediate.

 

And here is the main chapter on HBOS:

How aware was the Bank of the particular vulnerabilities of the two banks to which

it eventually extended ELA?
The case of HBOS
98.
As noted above, the run on Northern Rock marked a step-change in the level of the Bank’s
engagement with individual banks and it is clear that the Bank, and indeed the other
members of the Tripartite, were fully aware of the vulnerabilities of HBOS prior to its need
for ELA in October 2008. By September 2007 the Bank was receiving what it felt were more
appropriate data from the FSA, at any rate on banks identified as more vulnerable, including
daily liquidity reports from the FSA on HBOS (as well as on Alliance & Leicester and Bradford
& Bingley).
99.
Work undertaken within the Bank in November 2007 identified a number of key risks that
meant that HBOS was likely to be particularly vulnerable to a change in market sentiment.
These included: the risk of reputational contagion from association with other mortgage
banks, given that HBOS was the UK’s largest mortgage bank; HBOS’s reliance on wholesale
funding at around 50% oftotal funding, and within that its reliance on securitisation as a
source of funding; and its commercial property exposures. At that stage, HBOS was
nonetheless viewed as being somewhat less vulnerable than Alliance & Leicester and
Bradford & Bingley because of its more diversified business model.
100.
The increased focus on individual banks and improved data flow from the FSA was not just
confined to HBOS, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. From September 2007, the
Bank began to receive liquidity information on other major UK banks from the FSA at least
weekly. The individual banks’ data lacked in several respects the detail the Bank would have
liked, but it was used by the Bank to try to determine which banks would be most affected by
a crystallisation of the possible key risks to the UK banking sector. Iterations of this work
were shared with the Tripartite Standing Committee in October and November 2007.
101.
From late 2007, the Tripartite authorities began contingency planning to map out possible
options for resolving HBOS should the key risks facing it crystallise. There was heightened
monitoring of HBOS from March 2008 after the emergency sale of Bear Stearns on 16 March
and after an unfounded market rumour that HBOS was receiving emergency assistance
from the Bank caused a sharp fall in HBOS’s share price on 19 March. At this stage the Bank was considering in detail the consequences of HBOS, like Northern Rock the previous September,being unable to fund itself in the markets.
102.
By mid-April 2008, although still work in progress, a comprehensive contingency plan had
been prepared by the FSA, in conjunction with HMT and the Bank. This contingency planning
explicitly recognised the possibility of the Bank needing to undertake some form of ELA in
the event of wholesale markets beginning to close to HBOS. Although by May the immediate

threat to HBOS appeared to have receded somewhat, in part because it was able to
utilisethe SLS launched in April, the Bank continued through the summer closely to monitor HBOS’s liquidity strains on a daily basis as HBOS endeavouredto scale back assets and increase deposits in order to reduce its reliance on wholesale funding. In the event, wholesale funding became increasingly difficult as the maturity of funding available to
HBOS shortened progressively increasing the ‘snowball’of funding that had to be rolled at shorter maturities
With the failure of Lehman Brothers on 15 September, HBOS’s position rapidly became
untenable. When it finally needed to seek ELA from the Bank on 1 October, the approach did
not come as a surprise and the Bank was able to respond rapidly.
The full report is here

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/news/2012/cr1plenderleith.pdf

This report suggests the BoE and the Tripartauthority were fully or at least partially prepared for the Crisis. I could be wrong but the reports on the minutes seem to infer this wasn’t the case.

 

Christmas 2014 round up of financial crimes with no one going to jail.

My husband made a very valid point a few days ago and I have been thinking about it every day since. He pointed out that when we (Paul and I) started looking at misconduct in the financial industry and specifically HBOS, we couldn’t get anyone to take our allegations seriously because no one believed us. That was in 2007 and it took until late 2009 to actually get the FSA involved and 2010 before the police got involved – even although we made allegations to the police in November 2007. We’re not a lot further forward now in December 2014 because the criminal trials for that alleged crime won’t start until September 2015 – and even then, I’m not holding my breath.

It was disappointing no one believed us in 2007 but not surprising because the idea banks, or rather bankers, might be crooks, was out of the question back then. Bankers were seen as respectable professionals and your bank manager was so trustworthy, he or she could even sign your passport. The same doesn’t apply now and no one bats an eyelid at the concept of crooked bankers – in fact bad conduct is what we expect from them, to the point even the good guys (yes I do acknowledge there are still many good bankers our there) are tarred with the same brush.

Paul’s point was simple: It was tough back in 2007 because no one believed us, so nothing was done. Now, everyone knows the financial sector is rife with fraud and corruption and still nothing has been done! Not just in the case we reported – right across the board and in thousands of cases. Even more alarming is the fact that, in many instances I know of, where people have tried to report financial crime, the police will not investigate it! In all probability this is because they don’t have the budgets to investigate such a glut of criminality in austerity Britain – but that is of no help to the victims who are frequently told – “it’s a civil matter.” No it’s not – crime is never a ‘civil matter’ and even victims of PPI have a right to report it as a crime, get a crime number and, if applicable, also have it investigated. Of course that might damage crime statistics.

But no. Most financial crime is just swept under the carpet as “mis-selling” or “restructuring” and resolved by bank shareholders’ paying huge fines to the FCA. Think about that for a moment – we all believe bankers have committed criminal acts but nothing has happened. It just beggars belief and is really as scary as hell because, what it actually means is, we can no longer rely on the Law and really do have a two tier criminal justice system. There isn’t another, plausible explanation.

This terrifying thought was brought home again when I read the latest excellent Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone magazine: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-police-in-america-are-becoming-illegitimate-20141205 where he is talking about the disparities in the US legal system and it reminded me that I still haven’t had a reply to my letter to Mr Cameron of December 2012 when I asked for some clarification about the apparent immunity bankers have from prosecution. In that letter, which I wrote after reading some worrying comments from Andrew Bailey (now head of the PRA), I said:

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.

I am writing to ask you, as Prime Minister, for some clarification.

Does your government endorse the notion that banks and bankers should be given a licence to commit criminal acts without any fear of prosecution? Is this now official government policy? Are the British public now being asked to accept that, despite incontrovertible evidence of multiple criminal acts by banks, including money-laundering, drug-money-laundering, Libor rigging, multiple frauds and assorted Ponzi schemes, bankers are considered to be immune from prosecution? And if so, can I ask on what grounds your government, or indeed the government of any democratic country, can justify such a policy?” Full letter here: http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I didn’t write the letter to be confrontational – although I must admit I am incredibly disappointed the PM’s strong words in the run up to the last election about what should happen to criminal bankers, turned out to be hot air and no more. This is what he said to Jeff Randall in January 2009:

“I think that we need to look at the behaviour of banks and bankers and, where people have behaved inappropriately, that needs to be identified and if anyone has behaved criminally, in my view, there is a role for the criminal law and I don’t understand why is this country the regulatory authorities seem to be doing so little to investigate it, whereas in America they’re doing quite a lot.”

I wrote the letter because I genuinely wanted some reassurance from the Prime Minister that bankers are not above the law; we don’t have a two tier legal system and; something would be done to redress this inequitable situation.

So what has happened to clarify or allay my concerns since December 2012? Well a few things have happened but not what I was expecting. For example:

  1. I’ve never had a reply.

  2. Several banks have been found guilty of money laundering and even money laundering for drug cartels. And the only penalty has been a huge tax on the bank’s shareholders who have paid massive fines for the conduct of bankers. But no one has gone to jail.

*given that banks (buildings or legal entities) don’t have any physical ability to pick up the phone and negotiate with drug cartels – such deals had to be done by bankers. So why have no bankers been held responsible?

  1. Many banks have been found guilty of making billions of pounds with the PPI scam. They’ve had to pay the money back in many cases but, I assure you, not all cases. So again, the shareholders have lost a fortune. But no one has gone to jail.

* I often wonder who invented PPI? Did senior bankers sit down and plan how best to get thousands of their customers to take out insurance policies which cost them a fortune but could never be used? Or did someone in a bank find a recipe for creating and implementing PPI in a fortune cookie?

  1. As a founder member of SME Alliance, I talk every day to people whose businesses have been totally destroyed with various, ridiculously (and I would suggest deliberately) complicated financial products under the collective name of swaps. I’m not a victim of a swap and I know little about them (I’m learning fast) but even their titles smack of more contempt for businesses e.g. vanilla swaps. Can you have chocolate or strawberry? Probably. The FCA have said many of these products should never have been sold to ‘unsophisticated’ clients and in some cases banks have had to give the money back. However, the years it has taken for this to happen and the devastation these products have caused, apparently do not necessitate banks having to pay out billions in compensation. The redress scheme the FCA has come up with has conveniently been limited to peanuts – and no one has gone to jail.

* A journalist was telling me the other day of a case where someone challenged the FCA decision multiple times and was eventually awarded £500k – but of course the bank interest and charges on his account over the time it took to challenge the bank’s conduct meant the victim got nothing and the bank paid themselves £500k. You couldn’t make it up.

  1. The now infamous business recovery units like RBS/GRG have been merrily acquiring, appropriating, stealing their clients’ assets left right and centre and sadly RBS have not been working in isolation. It has caused outrage – it’s been all over the news, MPs have held debates on the subject, Committees have interviewed senior bankers and regulators and even the ever cautious BBC have suggested some bankers are crooks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t6jy1 But no one has gone to jail.

* As a victim of HBOS Reading (similar model) I have so much to say on this – but am having to keep quiet for now but not forever.

  1. And while the likes of GRG and HBOS Reading have caused many businesses to fail, a separate scandal has specifically targeted farms across the Country for over 20 years. Repeated allegations have been made against a man called Des Phillips and various of the 59 companies he has been or is a director of including UK Farm Finance, UKCC and UK Acorn Finance. And some of our major banks have been heavily implicated in these allegations as have other ‘professionals’. It’s a sickening story which has resulted in many family farms being repossessed and, sadly, farmers committing suicide. You can hear about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040hzz5 or read about here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141111/halltext/141111h0001.htm No one has been prosecuted so no one has gone to jail.

  2. Bankers or traders have been found guilty of rigging LIBOR. Again, massive fines have been levied – another penalty on shareholders. However, in this instance it looks possible some bankers will go to jail and one banker has even pleaded guilty. But let’s not get too excited that justice might be done. Read this: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/07/banker-pleads-guilty-libor-rigging-rate-fixing

As you can see the banker concerned could get up to 10 years in jail but we don’t know who he is or what bank he worked for and reporting on this case is heavily restricted. Presumably, after the other three people charged have had their trials, we might know more. But I wouldn’t bet money on it – especially if the banker in question worked for one of the State subsidised banks. But it’s a start.

I could make the list much longer but, to date and looking at the 6 instances above, money laundering, PPI, Swaps, asset theft including farms and LIBOR rigging, it’s certain 1 person in the UK will go to jail and 4 people might. And when you look at the trail of poverty, misery, desperation and devastation these crimes have caused, it is unbelievably disappointing – not to mention scandalous, that our regulators, justice system and worse still, our Government, have let this happen. In fact it is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Of course individual bankers do go to jail quite regularly – they’re usually quite low down in the pecking order and their offences (with a few noticeable exceptions) just about make it into their local newspapers. But the top dogs – the ones who make policy – the ones who instigate and oversee the kind of conduct which allowed all of the above to happen, seem to remain above the law. Which begs the question – why do we have laws?

Meanwhile, the Government have issued the following figures regarding crimes to businesses:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284818/crime-against-businesses-headlines-2013-pdf.pdf

I haven’t read it in any great detail but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mention the wholesale destruction of SMEs by banks. I sometimes think we should move the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf and have done with it before La La Land spreads across the whole of London.

Here in the real world we are in the run up to what will be another very austere festive season for many people in Britain – and I’m not just talking about people or SMEs who have been defrauded by banks. I’m talking about those families who’ve lost jobs and/or benefits and most of all, those people relying on food banks or who have lost their homes and now live on the street. A lot of people would say – me included – our major banks and therefore our most senior bankers, were very instrumental in causing our national austerity. And, post the so called Credit Crunch, those same banks (especially the part State owned ones) have done little to help the economy and much to damage it further. Unbelievably, the people at the top of those banks continue to be heavily rewarded.

For example, yesterday (13th December) I was reading an article about the top paid European Bank CEO’s. http://www.cityam.com/1415705309/which-ceos-european-bank-have-biggest-pay-checks-two-uk-banks-take-second-and-third-place

Hmmm – £7.4M. Even when you deduct 50% tax, that still leaves approximately £71k a week. I think you could have one hell of a Christmas with that remuneration package!

Mind you, every silver lining has its own cloud and I suddenly thought – I bet it’s really tough finding the perfect Christmas gift for these top bankers because, what do you buy for the man or woman who has everything? So maybe La La Land has its own problems at Christmas.

Shame you can’t gift wrap integrity – if we could give some of them that, the whole Country might feel more festive. Still, there’s always the good old standby gift – Monopoly. After all, banks have bought, sold, packaged and mortgaged every property on the board many, many times over – but, to date, they have been very adept at steering clear of the “Go to Jail” square. But then I’m guessing Al Capone thought he would never lose ‘games’ either.

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

I’m pretty sure the ratings for the excellent Panorama programme, ‘Did The Bank Wreck My Business’, were very high last Monday. Certainly most people I know watched it – but then many of them have direct experience of banking abuse at the hands of RBS or Lloyds – so they would. In fact most of them were interviewed by Andy Verity and Jon Coffey although their stories weren’t used in the programme. Some would say (and I would agree) there are many more horrific stories out there that the production team could have used – but it’s not a competition. Every business annihilated by bank misconduct (known to many as fraud), is a tragedy. And, given the Beeb’s generally conservative, establishment stance, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle this programme was as frank and exposing as it was.

As always, when programmes like this are on, I took some notes. I do it mostly to collect quotes for my book (nothing quite like “from the horses mouth”quotes to make points) but I also do it because I’m so staggered at what some people in the banking world say, it has to be captured in black and white for posterity. One day future generations will surely look back and ask “how the hell (being polite there) did a democratic country let that happen?”

I know the transcript of the programme will be available soon (or I hope it will) but here’s some of my favourite quotes from last night:

Jon Pain (RBS) “The whole purpose of GRG is to help customers return to financial health…..”

Vince Cable (BIS) “Well of course I’m very alarmed because good companies appear to have been put at risk or in some cases destroyed by banks behaviour…..”

Stephen Pegge (Lloyds) “our goal is to support businesses (you know) small and medium sized businesses are really important to us….”

Jon Pain (RBS) “(But) I would in no shape or form condone any inappropriate behaviour by anybody acting on behalf of RBS – that’s not part of our agenda in supporting customers.”

Christ Sullivan (RBS) to Andrew Tyrie re GRG “It is absolutely not a profit centre!”

Ross Finch (Lloyds victims) re his meeting with an exec of Cerberus who Lloyds sold his loan to “When I expressed disbelief about their behaviour, um, he said, “what you’ve got to understand is I am a prick” – which I couldn’t believe he would say such a thing!”

I’ve just pulled out those quotes because they are either so absurd or so shocking– and they’ve been broadcast on the BBC, the bastion of British correctness. If even the Beeb is exposing RBS and Lloyds as a bunch of crooks, what can we say? Nine years on from the so called Credit Crunch and where are we? I would say, if anything, we’re walking backwards. As one of the founder members of SME Alliance and a member of Whistleblowers UK ( Paul and I blew the whistle on HBOS Reading – the HBOS equivalent of GRG), I hear horror stories about banks v SMEs every single day. But the exposure of banking atrocities is no longer limited to what banks like to portray as ‘the niche market of poorly performing SMEs’. Everyone knows how bad some of our banks are and Andy Verity’s programme should be one of the final nails in the coffin of bad banking.

But will it be? Big question:

Vince Cable, Andrew Tyrie, the Treasury Select Committee, the FCA, the PRA, Mark Carney, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg – did you watch “Did The Bank Wreck My Business’? And if you did – what are you going to do about it? They certainly didn’t wreck your businesses so I understand that maybe you don’t understand the consequences of what banks do. However, I do and so do thousands of SME owners, employee’s, shareholders and creditors. We live with the consequences.

I also know Andy Verity and Jon Coffey have done extensive research to make this programme and could have used any number of totally outrageous cases because they interviewed loads of SME owners (or ex SME owners) – and I know some of those stories may have been a step too far for the Beeb. In my own case sub judice was a big problem. But I know they made the programme in the spirit of stopping banks abusing SMEs. So has it worked? Has it helped? Will anything change?

Well the Panorama team have done their bit. David, Ed, Nick, Andrew, Mark – over to you. You are the people who can make the banks behave – or at least you should be. If the reality is you’re not – then wow, we have a serious problem in our democracy.

Best quote of the programme, without doubt, has to be Austin Mitchell MP, talking in Parliament about the Keith Ross case and saying it how it really is:

“What I want to do today is tell the story of the theft of a profitable Yorkshire company and I don’t mean the criminal Mafia we often speak of I mean Britain’s dark suited Mafia which in this case is represented by Lloyd Bank and Price Waterhouse Cooper both acting in collusion….”

Here’s the link from Hansard to Keith Elliot’s case: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-11-12a.212.0

Of course, living in Italy for nearly 20 years, Austin’s comments would strike a chord with me. Well said Austin – there’s not many MP’s who would draw Parliament’s attention to the similarities between the banks and the Mafia but I would just put you straight on one thing – our dark suited Mafiosi are, in many cases, criminal.

I’m posting this on my own blog site because this is my own view – but I believe many people in SME Alliance will appreciate this view and I have to give us a plug because the conduct exposed in the programme is one of the reasons SME Alliance was formed.

#SME Alliance – giving SMEs a voice. #nooneisabovethelaw

To SME friends on twitter

Dear David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and other party leaders,

In the run up to the next election the owners and shareholders of 10s of 1000’s of SMEs who have been systemically abused by banks are wondering who to vote for and if there is any point? Over the last few years it seems there has been little difference in how the major parties have pandered to the banks and Corporates at the expense of the millions of small businesses in Britain. And while the present Government insists the economy is growing, the situation of banks refusing to fund SMEs while continuing to close them down, steal their assets and knowingly defraud them, continues unabated.

Not only do the banks continue with their unethical conduct to SMEs, we can assure you the majority of business owners find the regulators to be at best ineffectual and at worst biased towards the big banks. In all honesty we have no idea which party, if any, would be prepared to change that unethical status quo and support British businesses.

The following statistics come from BIS (beginning of 2013)

  • There were an estimated 4.9 million businesses in the UK which employed 24.3 million people, and had a combined turnover of £3,300 billion

  • SMEs* accounted for 99.9 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, 59.3 per cent of private sector employment and 48.1 per cent of private sector turnover

  • SMEs employed 14.4 million people and had a combined turnover of £1,600 billion

  • Small businesses** alone accounted for 47 per cent of private sector employment and 33.1 per cent of turnover

  • Of all businesses, 62.6 per cent (3.7 million) were sole proprietorships, 28.5 per cent (1.4 million) were companies and 8.9 per cent (434,000) partnerships

  • There were 891,000 businesses operating in the construction sector – nearly a fifth of all businesses

  • In the financial and insurance sector, only 27.5 per cent of employment was in SMEs. However, in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector virtually all employment (95.4 per cent) was in SMEs

  • Only 22.5 per cent of private sector turnover was in the arts, entertainment and recreation activities, while 92.7 per cent was in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector

  • With 841,000 private sector business, London had more firms than any other region in the UK. The south east had the second largest number of businesses with 791,000. Together these regions account for almost a third of all firm

24.3 million people equals a lot of votes and that’s without taking into account the millions of individuals damaged by the so called ‘credit crunch’ when banks were given billions of pounds from the public coffers with no reference to the public. That is a statement of fact – not a political point and many of us see little difference in the conduct of the last Labour Government to the present coalition Government. The banks and bankers get richer while the society and the small businesses that are such an essential part of the economy are continually ignored or deliberately impoverished.

We would like to know if any of the political parties are genuinely intending to support SMEs in the next term of Government? We’d like to know if that support is included, or proposed to be included, in any manifesto? And we would like to know what guarantees will be given that any promises made in the run up to the election, will be upheld? In the previous election we were all led to believe miscreant bankers would be individually held to account and bankers would not be handsomely rewarded for causing the austerity most of us live with. It has not happened and, if anything, our banks feel empowered to act immorally and even criminally in the knowledge any penalty will be levied against the shareholders by fines from the regulators. It started with new Labour and this situation has been proliferated by the coalition.

We would be grateful if anyone can clarify what we should expect from the next Government and whether any party is intending to support SMEs. The situation for many SMEs in this Country is catastrophic. We want change – we want to know who is prepared to instigate that change – we want to know where our millions of votes should go.

Yours sincerely

SME Alliance.

Following on from yesterday’s Indy article about the HBOS Rights Issue, can we at least stop subsidising fraudulent conduct in banks?

Tom Harper’s excellent article questioning whether or not investors were given key financial facts regarding the HBOS Rights Issue in 2008, provoked some serious outrage on the ‘Twittersphere’ yesterday – and quite rightly so. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/hbos-accused-of-misleading-the-public-over-4bn-rescue-9701791.html

I don’t suppose the Government, Lloyds, the Regulator or the BoE will be happy with that line of investigation. Not least because it opens the door to a whole torrent of questions about how many other transactions, involving state subsidised banks, have been less than transparent?

And perhaps the biggest question will be – was the information in the Lloyds/HBOS Merger proposal, as accurate and transparent as it should have been?

I am sure Lloyds bank will say the HBOS Rights Issue was nothing to do with them as it pre-dated the merger. But in order for the Merger Proposal to be correct, it should have contained watertight data about the financial state of HBOS – which, reading Tom’s article, I’m not sure it could have? I’ve looked at the Proposal and it relies on financial accounts for HBOS and Lloyds TSB dating back to 2005 – although conveniently, it only relies on unaudited accounts for HBOS in 2008. Not that it makes much difference because, sadly and to add weight to yesterdays article, the Big 4 auditors appear to have been equally confused as to the solvency of the banks despite the audited accounts, as shown in another excellent article by Ian Fraser, November 2010: http://www.ianfraser.org/connolly-i-do-believe-that-auditors-performed-well/

What I find really upsetting about all this was brought home this morning by an article from the Positive Money site (following up on an article by Jill Treanor in the Guardian). The article dates back to December 2013 and explains, in very clear and simple terms, how banks continue to be subsidised and why. https://www.positivemoney.org/2013/12/uk-banks-benefited-38bn-big-fail-state-subsidy/ And of course, if we are still subsidising the part state owned banks – we are also subsidising bankers’ bonuses – which, considering neither Lloyds nor HBOS have managed to comply with the terms and conditions of the 2008 bailouts, seems entirely unjust not to mention bonkers. In a letter I received from the Treasury dated 15/05/09, Lloyds and HBOS agreed to meet the following terms:

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…”

Joining up all the dots, I begin to get a very clear picture of La La Land and it’s not pretty. As I am definitely a layman in these matters (albeit a fairly well informed one), I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my view of what’s happened over the last few years.

Round up of events in La La Land.

In 2008 and after exceptional spending sprees by both the banks and the public, the proverbial finally hit the fan and many banks ran out of money. The Government, terrified they’d have a repeat of the Northern Rock débâcle, gave the banks billions from the taxpayers’ coffers. As this resulted in mass austerity, the Government were loath to let anyone know exactly how bad a shape some of the banks were in (some were insolvent) and they certainly didn’t want the public to know the exact details of the billions being handed over, so they did their best to keep it all quiet. They (and the banks) even kept it quiet from the people being asked to invest in the banks via rights issues and/or sanction the HBOS-Lloyds merger, although they didn’t have to keep it quiet from institutional investors, because they were ‘in the know’ and had no intention of investing in insolvent banks.

The banks took the money but totally ignored the social responsibility that went with it (terms and conditions) in the same way they ignore little things like money laundering laws or Principle 1 of the FSA Principles of Business: A Firm must conduct its business with integrity. Actually I struggle to see how most banks comply with any of the FCA Principles: http://www.fca.org.uk/static/documents/handbook-releases/high-level-standards136.pdf Section 2.1

However, after the credit crunch the banks could no longer be seen to lend with reckless abandon (which was a bit annoying, as they rather liked basing bonuses on inflated loan books), so they invented other reckless and ingenious ways of making money – e.g crippling the SME sector and stealing assets. Best of all, having totally screwed up and taken everyone’s money, they came up with their most ingenious plan to date – they sold us all the simple concept that – if we didn’t allow bankers to keep taking bonuses, they’d walk away – and then we’d all be screwed. To make sure that dreadful day never comes, we continue to subsidise banks so they all live happily ever after.

That sounds like a pretty dark fairy story and the darkest bit is – it’s not a fairy story. So I hope somewhere, someone in authority (not mentioning any names Mr Tyrie) will have read Tom Harper’s articles, Ian Fraser’s articles and I’m hoping Max Keiser will invite Paul Moore back on the Keiser show to talk about the appalling behaviour of HBOS, Lloyds and other banks. Because, crazy as is it and despite all the rules, laws and regulators we have, I think our best chance of getting banking reform is to report bank misconduct to the media and then spread the word via Twitter? Of course, that could ultimately do enormous damage to some banks but I can see little alternative to this course of action. It’s a huge problem that while we definitely do have regulators, it seems La La land is out of their jurisdiction – which is the obvious reason they cannot do anything to penalise errant bankers.

*Here’s a thought – if we’re going to rely on journalists to clean up the banking world – maybe we should be paying our financial journalists (and their research teams) more and getting rid of regulators? We’d save a fortune and get some results.

Anyway, what upsets me most about all this is how we continue to let ourselves be mugged and my point is: If banks are intent on continuing to cheat their customers, destroy SMEs and refusing to compensate the people they defraud while insisting they still get huge bonuses – fine. It seems there’s little we can do about it. But can we please, please stop subsidising this conduct?

Just how loopy are the regulators of La La land?

Not so much a blog as sharing a thought i.e just how brazen have our big banks got and just how barmy have our regulators got? I was trailing through the FCA website (as you do on a Saturday afternoon) when I came across the following short paragraph in: Enforcement Annual Performance Account 2013/2014. Call me naive but I was shocked. See what you think:
Transaction reporting
26. Accurate and complete transaction reporting is essential to enable the FCA to meet its
operational objective of protecting and enhancing the integrity of the UK financial system. We fined the Royal Bank of Scotland plc and the Royal Bank of Scotland N.V. £8m for failing to report accurately approximately 44.8m transactions, and for failing entirely to report approximately 804,000 transactions, that it executed.
Anyone else think that’s bonkers?
Of course I’m sure all these misreported or unreported transactions were entirely kosher but, given all you get is an £8M fine (which your shareholders pay) for withholding information about millions of transactions, I would question why we need money laundering rules or laws?
Just wanted to share that bit of madness – back to research.