Category Archives: FRC

SMEalliance up and running

It’s been a busy week and I still can’t believe that two weeks ago SMEalliance didn’t exist. It certainly does now! Obviously it’s still early days but here’s a brief update of where we are:

We have a company .

We have a domain name smealliance.org.

We have a logo (to be unveiled next week)

The website is being built and should be up and running by the end of next week.

We have a meeting confirmed for 25 people on 24th September at 1.00pm (the venue will be confirmed early next week but if it’s not Chancery Lane it will be within walking distance of Chancery Lane)

We have supporters who can’t make the meeting but are on board.

We have media interest.

Not bad progress for 12 days work.  But I am fully aware we are at the very beginning of something and what we want to achieve will not be easy.

I’ve been repeatedly asked over the last few days, the very obvious question, what will make SMEalliance different from any other organisation that supports SMEs. And I want to say straight away, we haven’t formed this group as a criticism against other organisations.

However, there are serious issues for all SMEs that clearly are not being dealt with or resolved. As these are issues that affect SME owners, shareholders, employees, it makes sense for us to try and help deal with them ourselves and alongside existing organisations. After all, who knows the problems we face better than us? And please note – SMEalliance is absolutely not just about banks – so we are not going into competition with Bully Banks or anyone else – in fact we have a meeting scheduled with Bully Banks and I hope we’ll have meetings with the FSB in the future.

As I said on Day 1 of this initiative – there are 4.9M SMEs in Britain and it is absolutely ridiculous that we are ignored by all the major political parties. They may say they don’t ignore us but the proof of the pudding is; no one is doing anything about the way banks continue to trash SMEs and steal their assets; no one is enforcing the conditions banks agreed to as part of the bailouts (i.e funding for SMEs); no one is looking at the abuse we suffer at the hands of the insolvency sector; no one is looking at the inequitable position we are in with the justice system (i.e first we get abused and then our abusers use shareholders money to make sure we can be abused again in the Courts); we are crippled with red tape and regulation while the major corporations SMEs struggle to compete with, are often not even paying UK taxes because they’re registered off shore; the various Ombudsman schemes are not set up to deal with SME problems; the regulators are not set up to deal with SMEs (e.g the FCA does not deal with individual issues but the FOS can only give limited compensation which doesn’t cater for SME losses); and so on and so forth.

The reason for SMEalliance is: we, the members (the few now and the many coming) are all very aware of how important SMEs are to society but also how individually vulnerable we are against the kind of unethical practise that blights the business community. Many of us started businesses with all the enthusiasm and dedication synonymous with entrepreneurship and with no idea how easy it would be for rogue elements of other sectors to see us as mere cannon fodder. We all employ (or employed) people and we know first hand the devastation caused when businesses fail because of immoral and sometimes fraudulent scenarios we have no control over. I think we’ve been collectively shocked that the protection we thought we had – regulators, law, Government – has, in many cases, proven to be totally ineffectual. Many of us have watched in horror as our businesses have been destroyed despite our every effort to save them. We’ve all tried individually to stop the kind of corruption and “wilful blindness” that makes SMEs such easy prey. Now we’re going to do it collectively. Who better than us to try and help remedy the problems facing our sector?

SMEalliance is a very simple concept. SME owners, shareholders, employees getting together to share idea’s and information that will help us all. And, most of all, having a collective voice that policy makers in Governments have to listen to. I’ll put that another way because a) “HAVE” to listen suggests we have a very aggressive agenda and b) as we all know, selective hearing or pretending to listen (nodding dog syndrome) is a speciality of some politicians. We want to get to the point where political parties genuinely WANT to listen to us and genuinely want to use our experiences to identify what needs to be changed or put in place for a more equitable platform for SMEs. It can only be a good thing for the economy to make the SME sector strong.

It’s a plan. It’s a very good plan. Now we just need to make it work! As I said, it’s early days but something about this does feel very logical.

That’s it for now. Anymore and someone will be buying me a soapbox! Will update again in the week. Please spread the word. #SMEalliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st SME Alliance meeting fully subscribed.

Brilliantly we have filled the spaces available for the first meeting of SME Alliance. Many thanks to those who have also pledged support – we will keep them fully updated on the agenda and, of course, the results of the meeting.

While we don’t have any more space for the meeting, please do keep contacting us on: smealliance2014@gmail.com if you want to support this initiative and get updates. It’s early days but who knows? After all it is logical – approx 25million people work for the  4,9 million + SMEs in this country. But in recent years we’ve been like lambs to the slaughter as far as the bamks have been concerned and successive Governments have done nothing to stop what’s happening. Bankers may well control the wealth of the country but they’re not (quite) brazen enough (yet) to pretend they have more power than politicians and Governments.

A journalist asked me today why we are putting together this initiative – and then answered his own questions. The organisations that are in place don’t seem to have been at all vocal about the many problems SMEs face. Most of them have been silent and stood on the sidelines.

As my mother used to say – “if you want a job well done, do it yourself.” That’s what SMEalliance intends to do. This isn’t just about fighting banks. It’s about asking how 25 million people, who are the life blood of British business, can be totally ignored?

We have no more space for the first meeting (which is amazing given we only came into being a week ago) but we do need the support of as many SME owners and employees as possible. A few thousand supporters between now and the general election next year, may just remind people what an election is about?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update re: meeting of SMEalliance 24th September 2014

09/09/14

Many thanks for the replies. As I’ve been in Oxford all day (but I live in Cambridge) I haven’t had time to respond – but I will. What is going on in this Country – we have major road works on our busiest roads in rush hour traffic? And then they open the roads at night when there’s hardly any traffic? So just over 2 hours to get back from Oxford but 3&1/2 to get there! Bonkers.

Rant over – As we still have to book the venue, it would be really good if anyone else wanting to come on 24th September could reply by 11.00am tomorrow so I can pass the definitive numbers on to Jon Welsby who is finding the best place.

Thanks also to those who can’t attend but want to support SMEalliance. Crazy to think all this started just a week ago! I wonder where we’ll be in a month? I’m really looking forward to meeting you all. And I would just add – after the meeting I had today with a really lovely farmer and his family, who have been totally abused by banks, the quicker we get a voice and some muscle, the better!!

Best

Nikki

From the replies received it seems that Wednesday 24th September is the best date for the 1st meeting of SMEalliance. So that’s it – we have a date. It’s been suggested the meeting should take place at 1.00pm because some people have a considerable distance to travel – and no one wants to by peak time rail tickets if they can avoid it.

What we can’t confirm as yet, is the venue – because we don’t know how many people want to attend? We have a list of 8 people who will definitely be coming but because last week was so hectic, I haven’t had a chance to confirm the names of many others who have expressed an interest to be involved. Until we know the numbers, we can’t confirm the venue. Jon Welsby has suggested a couple of venues he can get but they can only accommodate 10 – 12 people at max. I am sure we can find a bigger venue if more people want to come and our priority now is to confirm the numbers.

I have set up a specific e-mail address for people to confirm their attendance:

smealliance2014@gmail.com

Alternatively you can confirm by commenting on this blog.

Please let me know (if possible by Wednesday morning) if you would like to come. I am in Oxford all day tomorrow but would really like to be able to work on this Wednesday. Once we have that info I can e-mail all participants with a venue and an agenda (of sorts). Please bear in mind – this is a fledgling initiative at the moment and the purpose of the meeting is to make a plan for the future and create a strong group that will have a voice. I am not necessarily leading the group as the meeting may produce someone better suited to the job. But I am more than happy to help get us to that stage.

It would also be very helpful to receive an e-mail from anyone who isn’t in a position to come on the 24th but still wants to support #smealliance and receive regular update. Please make it very clear on e-mails on in comments – I WANT TO ATTEND ON THE 24th SEPTEMBER or I WANT TO SUPPORT SMEalliance AND RECEIVE UPDATES. At this stage the only info we need is the confirmation, a name, e-mail address (which we’ll obviously have), a twitter name (if you tweet) and a phone number if you want to give it – not obligatory.

Next blog on Wednesday or Thursday – hopefully with a venue and an agenda for the 1st meeting. Obviously the agenda will only go to those who are attending the meeting or want to support. Oh – and any bankers signing up to get inside information – we would be very happy for you to attend and speak to us!

Look forward to hearing from everyone.

Best

Nikki

 

re: SME Alliance

Quick update for all those who supported the idea of an SME Alliance to get some political support (in exchange for a potentially massive vote). I was quite amazed at how many people wanted to get involved – a very positive start.

Today I have spoken to Jon Welsby who is happy to organise a meeting place. So far the suggested dates are either 17th or 24th September. Please let me or Jon know which of the two dates (if either) are good. The meeting will be in London at a barristers chambers (start how we mean to continue)!

I just wanted to make one thing very clear. My intention, when suggesting this, was never to compete with other organisations like Bully Banks who help SMEs fight banks – and I hope Bully Banks and others will want to get involved. Also, although we do have the support of the excellent Nick Gould who is a lawyer, this initiative was never about legal advice or solutions and no lawyer could advise 4M SMEs! Neither is is about our individual cases – although I envisage we may want to collate our collective experiences in the future in order to fully exhibit how Government and the regulators have allowed SMEs to be mugged (I tried to think of a more politically correct description – but the word mugged seemed most appropriate).

The overriding objective of an SME Alliance is to point out what is, quite frankly, the beedin’ obvious: There are 4.9M SMEs in Britain (at least); Approx 25M people work for SMEs; we are crucial to the British economy and British society; we have been ignored. We are fed up being ignored and while, individually, Governments appear to have no interest in us, collectively we will have a very loud voice – and we will represent a very large vote.

Many of us have been totally abused by banks and, sadly, we have all had to come to the conclusion we can’t rely on any authority to protect our interests or the interests of our employees or shareholders – which is madness because we are the life blood of British business. And while we obviously can’t lobby or compete with the multi-billion pound banks or corporations in a financial sense, we have something they don’t have – numbers and voters. And running up to an election, I think it’s entirely possible that the votes in the ballot boxes will be every bit as important as the ballots in the board rooms.

I should know by the beginning of next week, which date is best for our first meeting and who will be attending. And BTW – I am organising this at the moment (I always knew my bossy side would have its day) but that is only until we decide how best to go forward and who best to take this forward.

I am incredibly enthused by the idea we could collectively bring about change for SMEs – not sure our political leaders feel the same. I tweeted the letter to Ed, Dave and Nick today. No replies – but then again, we haven’t even reached the end of Day1.

Watch this post – will do an update every time we have news.  All ideas and contacts gratefully received. Spread the word. #SMEalliance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Bank reform or tokenism? Rule No 1. “Don’t ever side with anybody against the family”.

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.

http://www.ianfraser.org/financial-regulation-with-griffith-jones-appointment-britain-keeps-it-in-the-family/

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.’

Interesting day – Ian Fraser, Tom Harper, Richard Brooks all aware of FRC conduct.

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:

(C) Private Eye

(C) 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.