Tag Archives: FSA

So 5000 SMEs supported the Tories but who will support 5M SMEs?

For some reason – and I can’t for the life of me understand what the reason is – in the recent election debates, none of the political parties have raised the issues of banks (you know the ones that caused mass austerity) bank misconduct (PPI, IRHP, EFG’s, Libor rigging, GRG, HBOS Reading, money laundering for drug cartels etc. etc) or the related issues of law and order and a two tier justice system. You know, the one whereby the majority of crimes committed by anyone in our financial sector results in no one going to jail and shareholders paying hefty fines for the “get out of jail free cards”.

Apparently none of this conduct and none of these issues are relevant to the election and we don’t need to know what the parties intend to do about them – if anything?

It’s been suggested (and probably rightly) that politicians feel such a minority of the population has been directly affected by such issues, it’s not worth making a big deal about them – not really a vote winner.

I just want explain why I think that is a total misconception. It affects millions.

On Monday the Telegraph ran an article about the 5000 SME owners who have signed Baroness Brady’s letter and pledged their support to the Conservative party. Personally I don’t think that was a very wise PR tactic because the obvious question is, who do the other 4,995,000 support? However the point I want to make is – according to the article 5000 SMEs represents 100,000 jobs.

According to the FCA, more than 60,000 SMEs were mis sold IRHP (Interest rate swaps): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/10527353/FCA-chief-warns-Treasury-swaps-scandal-could-be-significantly-bigger.html

So by the logic of Baroness Brady’s letter, that would represent 1,200,000 jobs.

Recently, Clive May, a builder and founder member of SME Alliance, successfully got an admission from RBS that they had miss-sold EFG loans and were now investigating 1800 of them: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2915335/Relief-fierce-critic-RBS-admission-mis-selling-loans.html

That’s another another 36,000 jobs and of course it’s the tip of the iceberg because a lot of banks were ‘mis-selling’ EFGs and, before that, SFLGs. According to Government statistics 1,740,736 EFG loans were drawn down between November 2008 and November 2013. Obviously, or should I say hopefully, not all of them were miss sold. But even working on the calculation only 10% were (and I think I’m being generous there) that’s still 174,073. Assuming (again hopefully) only 10% of that number resulted in SMEs being fatally damaged, that’s still 17,407 SMEs which, according to yesterdays statistics, equals approx. 348,000 jobs.

You see where this is going? Add to those figures the victims of asset stripping etc etc and you won’t get much change from the fact at least 100,000 SMEs who employed approximately 2,000,000 people, have been affected by bank misconduct. And that’s a conservative estimate. If you then add all the SMEs who were creditors of the failed businesses and who then had their own difficulties, the picture is very bleak. When I was investigating the HBOS Reading debacle, I started keeping a chart of the creditors affected and I gave up when I reached 20,000 – most of whom were SMEs.

All of the above wouldn’t be so devastating but for the other key issue being ignored in the election debate – justice and law and order. If SMEs could rely on the regulators, we may not feel so anxious to know what the political parties are planning to do about access to justice. But we can’t. I’m not going into detail here – but I can assure you that in the majority of cases, we can’t.

Neither can most of us afford civil litigation – and especially now when court fees have gone up to £10,000 while legal aid is all but non existent for SMEs. And, leaving aside court fees, in my view many SMEs are being seen as little more than cash cows by some legal firms who clearly think their remuneration should be on a par with bankers – regardless of whether or not they get results for their clients. And some, having milked the cow, drop the client the moment the udders run dry.

Where banks have committed criminal offences (and there have been many) we wouldn’t be so worried if we could report these crimes to the police and know justice would prevail. Again, in most cases that’s not an option and, on the odd occasion it does happen, you need to be prepared to wait years for any outcome. Generally speaking criminal prosecutions against bankers remain as rare as rocking horse sh*t and we’ve seen over and over again how banks deal with their crimes – they get shareholders to pay whacking great big fines and that’s the end of it.

Unbelievably our justice system and Governments (Labour and then the Coalition) seems to turn a blind eye to the fact so many crimes are going unpunished. Unbelievably, we, the public, have come to accept that status quo. There is now indisputable evidence bankers are not subject to the same laws as ordinary people. Additionally, SMEs know even when they can prove (and even in a Court) that a bank destroyed businesses, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything will be done about it: https://derekcarlylevrbs.wordpress.com/. Seems some banks are as cavalier in their view of a Judges power, as they are in politicians power.

I know I’ve waited 8 years for justice and it’s still not on the horizon. I know many members of SME Alliance are in the same boat. And those bankers who are deliberately perverting the course of justice by denying or burying criminality they are fully cognisant of, are still being given telephone number bonuses to continue this charade. Yes, Dave, Ed, Nick, we know all of that.

What we don’t know is: WHICH POLITICAL PARTY WILL ADDRESS THESE MATTERS AND SUPPORT SMES? #Justasking

But it’s never too late for someone to tell us. Who knows, maybe at the 11th hour one of the political parties will pull the cat out of the bag and show some support for the thousands of SMEs that have been ravaged by banks and who are really struggling to get justice.

And that could be a big vote winner.

BTW Before some annoying troll posts on twitter that neither I nor SME Alliance speak for or represent the views of all SMEs – I totally agree. That’s hardly the issue – this blog is about which politicians will speak out for SMEs – and will they do it before the election?

Bad Saturday – Twenty people with teacups can’t stop the flames of the next credit crunch.

Not a good start to a Saturday. First the post arrived and it was one letter with a barely legible hand written envelope to Mr P Turner – well done to our postman for deciphering the address. All the same we could see immediately who it came from because of the Royal Courts of Justice stamp on it. We were surprised because we don’t have a pending case in the Courts. What we do have is an indefinitely stayed case regarding our never ending eviction hearings. It’s stayed pending the outcome of the HBOS Reading trials which were due to start in January 2015, were moved to September 2015 and, a couple of weeks ago, were moved again to 2016.

For those reading this who don’t know anything about Paul and I, we have spent years investigating and exposing a major bank scandal. It took us from mid 2007 to September 2009 to get the regulator involved and then another year to get the police involved even although we reported it in December 2007. For our troubles, HBOS and then Lloyds Banking Group tried to evict us 20 times and on their last attempt a Circuit Judge allowed it and refused us permission to appeal. So our last hearing was the second of 2 in the High Court where we were asking for and then granted permission to appeal. That was in August 2010. However, by this time the police were involved and the first arrests in the case were in September 2010. So in December 2010 the Bank asked us to agree to an indefinite suspension of any eviction hearing on the grounds both we and they were witnesses in criminal proceedings – it wouldn’t do for witnesses to be fighting each other. That’s where we are – on hold until the criminal trials are over and God only knows when that will happen – although thinking about it, God probably doesn’t know either.

Anyway, the letter, or rather the form from the Courts this morning, informed us that our case is now closed and we have 14 days to retrieve our paper work or it will be destroyed.

This could mean one of two things: First, a clerk in the court, tasked with filing, has seen the date on our case and assumed it must be over, or sorted, or in any event not going ahead because it’s dated 2010. I might make that assumption myself in the same way I would have assumed the HBOS Reading trials would have been over 4+ years after people were arrested. And if this is the case, which I hope it is, we simply have to inform the Court our case is not over and is still active.

The second and darker scenario is that this is some form of legal trickery by the Bank to get the case out of the High Court and maybe back to a friendly Circuit Judge. I can’t see why the Bank would do this or how it would be advantageous to them when they could simply carry on waiting for the criminal case to start which could be never? But, while I repeatedly say (these days and as a founder of SME Alliance) that I firmly believe there are good banks and good bankers, sadly I don’t include Lloyds Banking Group or team Horta-Osorio in that bracket. And I am always waiting for their next malicious move.

You don’t hear much about HBOS these days although there was a small flurry of news when it was reported the FCA review into HBOS (like the HBOS Reading trials) has been delayed yet again – until after the election. Well there’s a surprise. But I don’t think this is because anyone in Government or in the FCA/PRA has forgotten about HBOS – we are constantly reminding them it remains unresolved. I think it’s still a priority – or at least burying what happened at HBOS is still a priority.

Which leads me on to the second disturbing thing about this Saturday morning. Included in our e-mails this morning were a couple from our friends at WBUK (whistle blowers) who wanted to share a video on Youtube. The video is of ‘The Spaniard’ interviewing a former employee of the FSA/FCA turned whistle blower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5c1FmVL8M

The whistle blower, who almost certainly isn’t called ‘Joanne’, says she worked in the financial sector for 15, 16 years and her last job was to help the FCA write mortgage policy so a financial crisis couldn’t happen again (so she was looking at what happened with sub prime) – I have no reason to doubt what she’s saying. She also says or confirms what a lot of us have felt for a very long time – the regulator is paid for and controlled by the banks.

This is not a revelation and I do remember a senior enforcement officer of the FSA telling Paul and I the FSA BoS Censure Report of March 2012 could have been published two years before it was but for Lloyds stopping it – which was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.

Ridiculously maybe, even people like me who have battled long and hard with the FSA for 7+ years, still hope there is an element of good intention in the Regulator’s office and that ultimately, it will do what it says on the tin – i.e. regulate, control and, where necessary penalise the banks and bankers to stop them doing more damage to the economy and to society as a whole.

Some would say that is a very naïve view and one I have no excuse for holding but actually, it is essential we hold on to this hope because the alternative is too dark to consider. Which is why I found ‘Joanne’s’ words so depressing this morning. I am a member of WBUK and I know there is no glory to blowing the whistle. Whether you blow the whistle on the MoD, NHS or the financial sector, all you will get for your efforts is aggravation, alienation and sadly, in many cases, persecution leading to serious depression. So I think Joanne would have thought long and hard before she did this interview.

It’s quite hard to hear what she’s saying because it was a telephone interview so I’ve transcribed a couple of extracts:

“….it was all about making sure you work with the banks to protect the banks, not to protect the people. It’s definitely not independent – everything had to go back through the banks, even the wall to wall control by banks – it was absolutely astonishing. I was amazed at the amount of politics that was there and the fact that everything had to be referred back to – did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks – and that was the aim of everything.”

…. and in my opinion there were rules already in place that could have been used to prosecute banks and could have been used to hold somebody to account for what happened in the massive mortgage mis-selling scandals. But they weren’t because nobody had the will to. Because that’s not what we were there to do – we were there to give the impression that’s what we were doing but you weren’t actually supposed to do it.”

I would have transcribed more but it’s too depressing – maybe I will tomorrow. In short, what Joanne is saying is, all the harsh words from politicians, from the Treasury, from the regulators about how bad our banks are and what is being done to reform them, are no more than lip service put regularly in the public arena to deceive us. In reality the banks have been and are still holding all the cards and pulling all the strings. When you go to the regulator with a serious complaint, you are really sharing information with the banks and they will decide how it is dealt with. If Joanne is right in her allegations then Paul and I have furnished the Bank with 35,000 pieces of evidence about HBOS Reading. Not very clever of us.

Back to this morning’s post and Mr HO. I have no faith or trust that the HBOS Reading trials will ever go ahead – I hope I’m wrong but considering Joanne’s words, it seems unlikely the establishment would allow such a controversial story to come out. Similarly the FCA report into HBOS. If regulation is all about protecting banks and not the people, HBOS is a hot potato that at all costs must be mashed to a pulp and then smothered in a gluttonous gravy that makes it impossible to recognise let alone swallow.

While Ian Fraser’s brilliant book ‘Shredded’ (which I would advise everyone to read) exposed the horrendous goings on at RBS, there has been no major criminal case involving RBS bankers which would put Ian’s research in the spotlight and directly in full view of the Court of Public Opinion. Not so HBOS – we’re waiting for a major criminal trial to proceed and a major FCA review to be published. Additionally, there is at least one book taking a very candid look at HBOS waiting to come out and that is over and above the fact no one can doubt, after his years of blogging and articles, Ian Fraser is a font of knowledge about HBOS as well as RBS. Of course all concerned will abide by the rules of sub judice until the criminal trials are over but none of this will fit the criteria of “ did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks” Clearly not. So will the authorities ever allow HBOS to be fully exposed? Probably not.

And if that is the case, the only other place where much of the truth about the staggering misconduct in HBOS would come out, is in a High Court case when and if the Bank decide to re open our eviction hearings – although actually the stayed appeal is our case and we could also reopen it. Our defence in the eviction hearing is entirely based on what happened at HBOS Reading and the conduct of the management of HBOS and Lloyds after Reading was exposed.

So maybe the logic of the Bank and its high powered lawyers is to get our case out of the High Court where it could be as damaging as the criminal trials themselves? Or maybe our post this morning really was a case of a clerk having a tidy up? Who knows? Either way, Paul and I have learned a lot over the last 8 years and we will not be ignoring the Court letter.

I really, really hope that one day soon, someone, somewhere in authority, will decide enough is enough and bring about even a minor change of policy that starts reflecting the interests of the Country and its people over the interests of the Banks. I don’t think that someone will be David Cameron or George Osborne or Ed Miliband. All of this “first and foremost protect the banks” policy, started under New Labour and has progressed under the Conservatives. Sure, there are some really good cross party MPs or even Conservative or Labour MPs – but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and even a really good MP – my friend Clive May’s MP, David Hanson, is a very good example as is Brian Little’s MP, Jim Shannon – can’t change policy on his own.

Maybe Mark Carney who has said “no one is above the law”is the man for the job? And someone told me a while back that John Griffith-Jones is actually one of the good guys and I should talk to him – I would certainly like to and I would like to ask him for his comments on what Joanne has said. I would be so happy to see concrete evidence that actually the FCA considers “consumer protection” and “the reduction of financial crime” of equal importance to “market confidence.” But Joanne’s words make that hard to believe. Especially her comment when she was asked – if Wembley Stadium going up in flames equalled the credit crunch, how many fire engines would she say the FSA used to put the fire out? Her answer was:

….“there was probably a line of twenty people with teacups.”

That is very scary and we should all be aware the only outcome of this situation continuing is the next fire won’t be contained to a stadium.

Many thanks to both the Spaniard at White Rabbit Education and ‘Joanne’, for bringing this insight (or is it incite?) to our attention.

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

Click to access 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

Mark Carney says #nooneisabovethelaw now we need to work on #whocanaffordthelaw?

On 24th September 30 people travelled from all over the Country to attend the first meeting of SMEalliance in the Old Council Chamber at the Law Society. It could have been double that number but, having asked our hosts, Rustem Guardian, for a room for 12 people, then 25 people, then 30 people, I felt it would have been rather rude to continually increase the numbers!  All the same we ended up with about 35 people. Rustem Guardian did us proud and we are enormously grateful to them for giving us such a fitting venue for our first meeting.

I say fitting because one of the key phrases that came out of the meeting was this:

“no one is above the law.”

Of course most people at the meeting were brought together because, as SME owners are very well aware, some people do seem to be above the law – which is, in part, the reason why so many SMEs are struggling and continue to be abused and especially (but by no means exclusively) by the financial sector. But the reality is  – and we need to remember it – in a working democracy, no one is above the law.

I raised this subject at the meeting because of a letter Paul and I received, dated 1st September 2014,  (1 day before SMEalliance was born) on behalf of Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. We wrote to Mr Carney on 31st July 2014 and that is our first letter to him although we were in regular contact with Lord King from 2010 and he always replied, usually in person and with his private seal. Mervyn King (as he was in 2010) had asked to be kept fully informed of the progress of investigations into HBOS (ongoing) and I don’t make the point to infer we are buddies of Lord King’s,  I make it because by writing to him and getting replies, we were sure the BoE had critical information about malpractice in HBOS. So we were keen to make sure Mark Carney was similarly well informed. I can’t publish most of our letter or the reply for reasons of sub judice but I can publish this point we raised with the Governor:

Mr Carney, even as music publishers (there’s been little music publishing and lots of fraud investigation over the last 7 years), we understand the need to maintain international confidence in the City of London and our financial sector. But it would seem the attempts to indemnify bankers from crime in order to maintain that confidence, has resulted in the City becoming the ‘Wild West’ of the financial world. By not holding bankers to account individually when they break the law, we now have a situation whereby the banks feel their immunity to prosecution is a licence to further break the law. And they do so in the knowledge that, worst case scenario, their shareholders will pay huge fines while those bankers responsible for the good management and reputation of the banks, continue to get huge pay packets, bonuses and pension pots. Under such a scheme, where is the incentive for bankers to behave lawfully, morally and ethically?

The reply to this on behalf of the Governor was (I’ve redacted specific’s):

Your letter also notes a concern that regulators have not acted to penalise relevant individuals in relation to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and that bankers are somehow above the law and able to avoid prosecution. This is a view very much not shared by the Bank of England. As the Governors recent letter to Lord Blackwell made clear there is absolutely no doubt that bankers who are guilty of misconduct should face the regulatory and / or criminal consequences of their actions. No one is above the law.

I haven’t published that to annoy the Governor of the Bank of England by sharing private correspondence. On the contrary I’ve published it to make the point that in the “them v us” scenario many SME owners feel exists between businesses and the establishment,  we have a lot of shared views. And I may be very naive but I was actually delighted to read the headline in the Huff Post today:  Mark Carney Tears Into Bad Bankers For ‘Getting Away With It’

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/13/mark-carney-bankers-banking_n_5975494.html

I am not saying our letter to the Governor made an impact but, on the other hand, maybe he is aware of the bad conduct of banks towards SMEs – maybe we can get our message across to people like Mark Carney and maybe now if the time to resolve a “failure to communicate” situation that has existed for far too long. I really hope we can remedy that with SMEalliance. We can open a real dialogue with people who can help us get change – and this time, the message won’t be from people paid to represent us – it will be SMEs representing SMEs.

I feel hugely encouraged by the immediate response and support for SMEalliance – it really feels as if a fuse has been lit and an immediate network of like minded people have joined forces. We need to build and build our numbers so our voice gets louder. And then we can collectively make sure influential people like Mark Carney  or politicians know exactly how we feel, what our problems are and what changes we want to see – straight from the horses mouth. Starting maybe with the statement from the Governor’s office:

No one is above the law.

If even the Governor of the Bank of England is agreed on this principle. maybe we could start dealing with the one thing that hinders it:

But most people can’t afford the law.

That’s a huge problem but let’s not run before we can walk. If we can be sure the authorities will support  “no one is above the law” that would already go a long way to helping SMEs. So that when we report misconduct, fraud, misrepresentation, sharp practice or other issues that damage SMEs to the regulators, the police, MPs – we could do so with the confidence the law will protect us.

Last thing – you don’t have to have a problem to join SMEalliance. Aside from trying to raise important issues at a political level and have a huge voice, it is a huge opportunity to network, share information or idea’s and cross reference facts that will also alert others to potential pitfalls. And for those who do have a problem, it will also hopefully provide a support network.  I saw all of this go into action straight away when everyone at the meeting adjourned to the pub and it was evident the knowledge and experience people were willing to share was phenomenal.

Please visit our website http://www.smealliance.org and if like us you think SMEs, which are the absolute backbone of the economy, should have a better deal and a bigger voice, please join us. Our next meeting is 6th November at the Winford Manor Hotel in Bristol.

 

 

 

 

Save the Bankers v Save the Pandas – now there’s a choice!

This Sunday has not started well. Beautiful crisp morning but pretty damn cold – the beginning of the ice box scenario for many households who can’t afford heating. Nevertheless, Paul and I were up early and ready to go out to our local car boot which has, over the last few years, become like a weekly social event – regular stall holders with irregular wares and prices ranging from 20p to a couple of pounds, regular visitors chatting away with each other, lots of dogs (and their proud owners) and so multi cultural. I often think the car boot sale we go to, which is held in a farmers field in Cambridgeshire, is one of the best and most amicable examples of multi-cultural Britain.

Unfortunately today’s visit did not go to plan as our elderly car decided it does not want to live through another winter – and refused to start. Hey ho, won’t be the first time a car has died on us over the last few years, so I decided to take another pleasant option – read the papers on line, tweet a bit and listen to the Archers.

It was all going really well until I read an article on the Conservative home site called ‘Save the Bankers’ penned by an A level student. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their view and it’s always good to see young people voicing their opinions. The author even made some good points – especially the point that ‘save the bankers’ is unlikely to be as popular a campaign as ‘save the pandas.’ Yep, I’d say it’s a non starter. And he, Joe, also made the valid point that thousands of people are employed in banks – the figure of 3.8% of the population was muted although I haven’t checked that figure. Obviously it’s a big sector – obviously it employs many ordinary decent people – and even makes many of them redundant and, (I don’t know if Joe knows this) sometimes by the most ungracious of methods, like please all attend a meeting in the car park – you’re fired and don’t go back into the building.

However, the overall tone of the article was to praise the contribution banks and bankers make to society; to criticise those who insist banks are the root of all evil and; to have a pop at the Labour party for their manifesto in relation to bankers’ bonuses. With the arrogance of youth, the author insists we must rise above the ridiculous myth that banks or the City are responsible for society’s ills and we must instead take collective responsibility for economic failures.

Fair enough – not many 18 year old’s will have lost their business because of asset stripping or swaps. They probably won’t have been affected by LIBOR or even PPI at that age. They won’t know how the insolvency laws have been abused and manipulated over the years so that solvent companies are pushed into administration by banks who then acquire those assets for peanuts. So they won’t know how many SMEs have been destroyed by deliberate and immoral policy implemented to benefit an elite minority at a huge cost to the majority. And if you don’t research that side of the coin – you won’t know and you won’t include any of it in your article.

But my problem is not about the content of the article – in a world where social media means everyone can share their views across the internet, why shouldn’t Joe share his? And if he had done so on his own blog, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid (I probably wouldn’t have even seen it). What I found worrying was that the Conservative party gave this blog/article a huge platform on their home site and in doing so, they’ve used an A level student to promote the bizarre propaganda that banks are fundamentally good, we should recognise their contribution to society, embrace the ambitious nature of bankers and allow them to thrive without the constraints of “iniquitous” legislation being imposed by regulators. Bonkers!!!

There are no doubt many good bankers out there Joe. Every sector has good people – personally I always had a bit of a soft spot for Tony Soprano. Some of my good friends come from the financial sector – although most of those particular friends are now better known as ‘whistleblowers.’ Sadly, there can’t be many good main stream banks in the UK – because unlike other European countries, we only have a handful of banks and even if 50% of them were good – that could still only be a few rather than many. In my experience and after 7 years of research, I would say the majority of the big banks have repeatedly demonstrated utter contempt for society and its laws – spurred on by successive Governments.

I have no idea who to vote for next year – almost certainly it will be the party which demonstrates any inclination to support the 4.9M SMEs in the UK who employ 25M people – if such a party exists. Who knows, that could even turn out to be the Conservative party. Like many SME owners, I would just like to see a Government that redresses the balance of the many and varied issues that have caused SMEs to bat on a totally uneven playing field – and banking is only one of the those issues. All the same, while I respect everyone’s views, I feel slightly apprehensive about any political party that gets teenagers to preach on the subject of how good our financial sector is. Poor etiquette Dave. Unless of course you are also going to let someone else have the same platform to put the other side of the argument? I can think of quite a few volunteers.