Tag Archives: Lloyds Banking Group

25 pointers on how to get a bank to take your complaint seriously – and how to keep going until they do.

I found this document last night when I was trailing through old files. I wrote this back in June 2012 and decided it might be helpful to some people so I’ve given it a slight update. It’s an extract from a book I was writing called ‘A consumer guide to dealing with banks, bailiffs and other bullies.’ Maybe I will finish it one day.

June 2012 was a very tough time for Paul and I and our family because in April we’d been visited by a senior enforcement officer of the FSA (now FCA) who insisted we should tell Lloyds Banking Group what we wanted after all we’d been through (regarding matters related to HBOS Reading). He implied the Bank would finally compensate us and he said the FSA knew we were very entitled to compensation. But it didn’t happen. We wrote to the bank and they wrote back with the V sign – as in “vattene fanculo” which is a very rude colloquial Italian phrase to say get lost. So, after 5 years battling, we had 5 minutes of hope which was very quickly dashed. That’s why I wrote the document below – to help anyone else in the same boat and to stop similar disappointment.

Times have moved on a lot since then and where as a victim of financial crime used to struggle to expose what was happening, nowadays some of the big banks expose their crimes for us! Everyday the papers have a new banking scandal in them and the regulators, the Government and the public are all aware that some banks have a serious propensity to dishonesty.

Fortunately this blatant misbehaviour has meant bank culture has had to start changing (a tiny bit) and, better still, we have some new players in the market place like Metro Bank who are gaining popularity exactly because they don’t have a business model which sets out to mistreat its customers or SMEs.

All the same, many of us still have serious and unresolved issues with our banks and everyday I hear about more cases where people are really struggling to keep going or, in some cases, keep their sanity in the face of very unethical behaviour by banks. So I hope these pointers which are entirely my own thoughts after living through 7 years of outrageous treatment from HBOS and Lloyds Banking Group, will help anyone newly acquainted with bad banking practice!

  1. What you’re up against – the 3 D’s.

    Many bank’s rely on a policy of 3 D’s – deny, delay, dilute. When you first realise you’re up against multi billion pound corporation who is going to; deny everything you say; take months to reply to you; delay any resolution for years and; dilute your case by muddying the waters with legal technicalities, you will, quite naturally, feel despondent and impotent. That is the first hurdle to get over. Be aware this is what they are likely to do. Expect it. The quicker you do, the quicker you can get on with challenging their tactics.

  2. Do your research.

    Make sure you have your facts 100% right – not only about your case but also that you know exactly what you can really expect from your bank and what their obligations really are, as opposed to what you think you can expect. For example, a banks’ primary duty is to its shareholders and not to its customers. Also, however boring it is, read and reread every document you have from the bank. Then cross reference it with their code of conduct, the BBA code of conduct and the FSA Principles. Most of the codes are voluntary (FSMA rules are not) but even so, it helps to document in writing to the senior people at the bank exactly how many of the voluntary codes their bank has broken. It sounds complicated – it’s not that bad. And if you’re in it for the long haul, things like the FSA principles and FSMA 2000 will become regular reading to you. Although having said that, almost every example of malpractice can be shot down with Principle 1 of the FSA Principles: “A Firm must conduct its business with integrity.”

  3. Make a complaint in writing to the banks internal complaints department.

    Very often a waste of time and you will almost certainly get a negative reply but, if you don’t go through this process, everyone, including the regulators will have an excuse not to look at your complaint until you have.

  1. Write politely but firmly to senior executives of the bank, the CEO and the Chairman.

    If you are sending your correspondence electronically, always ask for a read receipt and if you’re sending by post, ask for an acknowledgement of receipt as well as a rely. You might also consider sending correspondence by registered post. The fact you can confirm they definitely received your correspondence can be very helpful later as they cannot deny someone knows what the content was. Also, make the point in your letter or e-mail, over and above the fact you would like the Board or the executives to deal with your complaint, you are writing because you want to be sure your complaint or allegation is on the record at the most senior level of the bank. Finally, be sure to keep any reply in a secure place – there is little as helpful as the banks own words over a period of time. Even if most replies you get say they have already dealt with your complaint and “we do not intend to correspond further” that can still be helpful. I have a pile of such replies – which all look rather silly and lacking in integrity (FSA Principle 1) now 10 people are being prosecuted with criminal charges in the HBOS Reading case.

  2. What to expect or not expect from the regulators. FSA (FCA) and FOS

    In the case of an individual complaint, the FSA (now FCA) http://www.fca.org.uk/ will almost certainly send a reply telling you they do not deal with individual cases. Nevertheless, send a very detailed explanation of your complaint to the FCA – as it may end up as a systemic issue which they later have to deal with. When sending your complaint to the FOS http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/ , be aware they are limited as to the compensation they can award (£150k) even if they do find for you. So an SME for example, which may have lost considerably more, cannot get a resolution through the FOS. All the same, it’s another box ticking exercise and I would advise you to tick them both.

  1. Document everything.

    Very important. Take notes on every conversation you have with people in the bank, the regulators, your MP and, if applicable, the police. If you have conversations with people who are giving you information or evidence relating to your case, send them your notes of the conversation and ask them to verify that you have your facts correct. Keep all your notes and correspondence safe and in order – you may need to refer to them years later and it’s not helpful to find you’ve destroyed or lost potentially critical evidence. This has been one of our best tools. People contradict themselves all the time and very often they completely forget they’ve said black is white and say it’s pink. We know what people said about HBOS Reading back in 2007/2008 because we wrote it down. Many of them don’t remember.

  1. If your complaint involves fraud or the possibility of criminal actions, try to identify other potential victims.

    Get in contact with them and pool your information. Then give your collective information to your MPs, the regulators, the police and authorities like the Treasury Select Committee. If you try and give your information individually, most of the authorities will tell you they cannot look at individual cases. It’s much harder for them to ignore you when you have evidence of many similar fact cases.

  1. Collect evidence and case law that will help you.

    If you do identify similar cases (even if they are not directly related to your case) collect case evidence and case law because, should you have to resort to the civil courts, which is a dangerous route, the bank will rely heavily on case law that’s beneficial to them and legal technicalities that may confuse you and manipulate the court. You may not be a lawyer (although you can still research case law yourself in Bailii http://www.bailii.org/) but if you can collect evidence from other victims of similar cases, it can help your case. And even if some judges (and certainly the banks barristers) will refuse to consider it on the grounds it is irrelevant to your case, it will still go on the record and in the transcript. So it’s worth saying out loud e.g “I have here 10 examples of similar practice from this bank supplied by other victims.” Almost certainly not court protocol but then neither is it court protocol to deliberately mislead a judge – and I have seen HBOS legal teams do this repeatedly.

  2. If you get to the stage where your MP is involved, copy him or her in on all your letters to the bank and the replies you get.

    Some MPs are real champions of the underdog but unfortunately, not all of them are happy to get involved with financial disputes against big banks. But if you are suffering from a genuine injustice, your MP has a duty to assist you http://www.ukpolitical.info/YouandyourMP.htm . So don’t ever let them make you feel you are a nuisance. And if they do, I suggest you copy every letter to and from your MP to third parties like the regulators or, if you feel you are being particularly badly treated, to the Prime Minister.

  1. Use the many tools available on the internet to collect additional evidence

    You can get details of companies and directorships on Companies House http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk//wcframe?name=accessCompanyInfo which can be very helpful but it does cost £1.00 per document and, in the case of a very big fraud, you may end up needing hundreds of documents you simply can’t afford. There are other sites that can give you the same equally valuable information, especially with regard to directorships, which, while they charge an annual fee, can work out cheaper. The best one we found back in 2011/12 was Creditsafe http://www2.creditsafeuk.com/ . But now you can get most of the information you need free from Dellam http://www.dellam.com/cgi-bin/main.pl or better still Duedil https://www.duedil.com/ You will still have to pay for company accounts etc but you will be able to see directorships, shareholders and debentures. If you’re prepared to put in the time going through the information on (e.g) Duedil, the paper trail you uncover can help show you the bigger picture.

  1. If you believe and have proof someone in the bank has committed an illegal act, report it immediately to your local police or to the fraud squad.

    In many cases the police will tell you your complaint or your allegations are a civil matter – we were told that in the HBOS Reading case where the Cambridge police would not investigate our allegations simply because the bank told them there was nothing to investigate. Stand your ground. Don’t take no for an answer. Write to the police giving a clear statement of the crime you believe has been committed and listing the evidence you have to support it. Copy your letter to your MP and the FSA. Ask for a crime number and remind the police they have sworn an oath to “… prevent all offences against people and property” http://srchtag.com/ex/vfc2nonclymg2yi.html .

  1. Dig in and adapt your living standards to suit your circumstances until you reach a resolution.

    It could take years to finally get a resolution or compensation from a bank and many banks believe their policy of ‘delay, deny, dilute’ will cause many complaints or allegations to simply disappear – which they do. People get old, get ill, cannot bear the stress, simply give up or in some cases they die. It’s an effective and immoral way for banks to minimise the cases against them. If you want to win, you need to have the right mind set and you must learn to live without things you are used to having and also learn to appreciate some things you have taken for granted. Make the most of every positive in your life however tiny. It’s the small positives which can keep you going in times of immense stress and even a bank can’t take them from you.

  1. Try and keep on top of everyday bills that could potentially cause you massive problems.

    If you find yourself running out of money because of what your bank has done (common problem) you still have to stay on top of daily issues or you will end up being the one in Court! One such example is Council tax. Make sure your local council know about your reduced circumstances and that they reduce your council tax accordingly. If you don’t, you could find bailiffs on your doorstep. Where you know you will have problems paying your creditors, try to keep them informed about what is happening. People can be amazingly accommodating, considerate and supportive, if they know you are suffering real injustice. Similarly, they can be very aggressive if they don’t know what you are going through and feel you are merely trying to take advantage of them.

    In the really unfortunate event your debts escalate to the point of bailiffs attending your property (which is so offensive to when you have to struggle so hard to get authorities to take action against financial crime) it’s really important you know your rights because some bailiffs will unfortunately misrepresent them to gain access to your home: http://www.advicenow.org.uk/advicenow-guides/consumer-and-money-problems/dealing-with-bailiffs/if-bailiffs-knock-on-your-door-html,620,FP.html Worse still, if for any reason (including the consequences of bank malpractice) your lender or land lord threatens to evict you, you must also know your rights. http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction

  1. Contact your local press and give them the details of your case but be wary of approaching the national press unless you can forge a positive relationship with the journalists.

    Try and get your local press to cover your story. Give them regular updates and include issues of human interest especially if, as in our case, your situation with the bank results in eviction hearings or Court proceedings. But be very wary of approaching the national press.Good investigative journalists are few and far between whereas advertising budgets supported by banks and corporate bodies are ever more desirable to an industry that is plagued by modern technology which increasingly reduces its budgets. We know to our cost that some journalists who have had chapter and verse on the HBOS Reading story have gone on to write stories that were completely incorrect as to fact and have gone out of their way to make the victims look like the fraudsters.Having said that, we have also been lucky enough to come across some exceptional journalists who have been enormously supportive and fortunately, I would say now, in 2015 we are getting to the stage where more journalists are aware you are likely to be telling the truth about bank malpractice. All the same, when considering the main stream press, its a good idea to check out who is on the Board (past and present directors or non executive directors) of newspapers.

  1. Set up a blog site and put the details of your case and your allegations on it.

    Invite people with similar situations to get in contact with you. Be very careful however, not to publish your allegations or to defame people unless you are 101% sure you are right. While you cannot be accused of defamatory behaviour if what you publish is based on irrefutable proof, banks and individuals in banks or financial institutions, may well have legal teams capable of highlighting even the most minor flaw in your argument  that is capable of challenge. So be very careful what you write. Down the road, the bank or its lawyers could take your words and make them your worst enemy.

  2. Use social media to your advantage.

    One thing banks (or even Governments) didn’t factor in after the credit crunch was the phenomenal rise of social media. Use it to your maximum advantage. Get google alerts for the bank you’re complaining about; tweet the articles; look at the people who re-tweet you or who tweet on similar subjects. Add them to your followers on twitter or Facebook. Share information with them. Social media is maybe the most useful tools you have so make the most of it.

  1. Be very tolerant of your family or people who are living in stressful circumstances because of the situation the bank has put you in.

    If ever there is a time you will need your family, it’s when you are fighting a major battle with a bank or corporation with no morals and deep pockets. Even family turmoil is to their advantage as it will stop you focusing on the real battle and cause you immense distress. It’s easy to play the blame game and for families to be at each others throats when every thing goes wrong and you are all stressed. Don’t give banks that pleasure. Close ranks – stick together and think of your family as your army and your support. Sadly, if your battle goes on for years, you may find you lose a few friends along the way because people will get sick of hearing you repeatedly talking about your case. Also, you may no longer be able to afford to do the things you used to do with your friends (restaurants, holidays etc) so you may just drift apart. Even more reason to be very tolerant of your family. They can’t walk away and they are probably living through the nightmare with you.

  2. Don’t be arrogant – leave that to your opponents.

    Anger, outrage or encouragement and support from friends or family can sometimes make you feel you can publicise every tiny breakthrough as a major victory. Don’t go there. You won’t feel so arrogant when two years down the road you’re still struggling and the bank executives are still coining in the millions. It’s tough I know, but leave the arrogance to your opponents. If possible, encourage them to be arrogant in writing or better still to tell blatant lies in writing. Keep your powder dry and your day will come. Also, regardless of how angry you are, try to be dignified and professional in your dealings with the bank (even when they’re not). Banks love it when people come across as highly emotional and slightly erratic. We know of several very good cases where victims have been their own worst enemies and especially in court rooms where judges have little tolerance for unprofessional or aggressive behaviour. It gives credence to the idea you may be unreliable.

  1. Be wary of false promises or men baring gifts.

    Don’t think, because the bank, or the bank’s lawyers, or a regulator or anyone else gives the impression they are suddenly sympathetic to your cause, that you can afford to drop your guard. Nothing is over until it’s over but banks will try to placate you, albeit temporarily, if they have other pressing situations going on which you could, if you were aware of them, make worse. They tend to blow hot and cold according to their own situations but at the end of the day, the protection of their brand and the protection of those people highest up in the chain, is their primary interest. Contrary to what their code of conduct says, some banks are not at all interested in their clients – unless those clients either owe them billions of pounds or can implicate their senior executives in shady dealings.

  2. Be very wary of taking the legal route.

    One thing banks definitely have in their favour is their ability to pay vast sums of (shareholders) money for good legal brains. You, on the other hand, because of your circumstances and unless you go into battle as a multi millionaire (in which instance a bank would almost certainly give you more millions rather than challenge your allegations against them), will possibly be a litigant in person. So going to court against a bank is like being thrown into the lion’s den. Even if you can find a law firm to represent you on a CFA basis (conditional fee agreement) you will always play second fiddle to their paying clients and you really really need to be very careful when choosing your lawyers. Yes, there are good ones out there – but legal firms are not charitable organisations. If you run out of money, many of them run out of advice or sympathy simply because they are also businesses and need to pay their staff. Your catastrophe is yours, not theirs. So don’t expect morality to come into it because in most cases – it’s just business.

    Equally worrying is the new game on the block whereby third party funders will take your case forward because they can see you have a valid case which might bring about lucrative results – but buyer beware, by the time you have paid your legal fees and your third party funders, you could find yourself in a Jaundyce and Jaundyce situation – you fight for years and get nothing. This is why banks love the playing field of the court room. Even without the disturbing proposition that justice is very often in need of Spec Savers these days and some Judges seem ill advised if not illogical, banks know that the Court room is, in general, their play ground not yours – unless it is a criminal trial, But even then you must be wary.

    Having said that, we have won most of our 22 eviction hearings as litigants in person and in some of them we were up against the Vice Chairman of a huge London law firm as well as the banks barristers. So it can be done and we still have our home but we did have the advantage of bundles of evidence we had collected about events originating at HBOS Reading. Not many judges wanted to evict us until that was resolved – although one did.

  1. If you feel yourself becoming seriously depressed, get treatment.

    Remember that depression is a common complaint for whistle blowers or anyone taking on a bank or corporate. This is a subject I’ve heard discussed at length by well known whistle blowers and victims of Corporate fraud and I know many people who have suffered terribly from depression. There is no stigma to falling into depression when a bank has ruined your life – it’s actually very normal. So if you feel yourself going down that route, get help asap (and while we still have the NHS) http://www.depressionuk.org/national_links.shtml and, if you do have treatment, make sure the bank, your MP, your local council, your creditors and any regulators you are writing to, are aware of that treatment and why you are having it.

  1. Don’t give yourself time scales.

    The fact you have conclusive evidence of negligence, misrepresentation of even fraud, means surprisingly little to some banks. Whatever happens to you will not, sadly, stop the senior exec’s, getting their mega pay and bonuses. Therefore, they have no interest or concept of what you are going through but they do know, the longer you go though it, the more likely it is you will give up. However confident you are, never tell yourself this will be over in 3 months, 6 months, a year. We did and here we are 7 years later still going through it. Just keep going. If you are in the right and if you are resilient, then one day it will be over but only when you have worn the bank down as much as they’ve worn you down – or, if you’re really lucky, the authorities will make the bank resolve matters. That can take a while and you will only disappoint yourself and your family if you try to predict that time scale.

  2. Remind yourself on a daily basis that, whatever the bank says, you can win if you don’t give up.

    Most banks don’t have moral stamina, they just have money and lawyers and they change their lawyers as often as you change your socks. They also change their management, their policies and even their CEO’s on a regular basis. Sooner or later and if you are persistent, you may even come across a CEO who has heard of damage management. You never know and neither do I but it could happen and we live in hope?

  3. Weigh up your options.

    Really taking on a bank can take years out of your life which I know to my cost. Even if you win in the end and get some or all of the compensation you want, no one can give you those years back. In the case of Paul and I, we had no choice. The bank destroyed our business and, when we exposed the corruption behind this, they also tried to take our home. We had no option but to keep fighting. Neither would we give in to supposed resolutions that were, in effect, no more than bank housekeeping and of no advantage to us or any other victim of HBOS Reading. So we have kept fighting. That was our decision and one that we and our family have paid heavily for but which we wouldn’t change. We have been defrauded – we are in the right and we will never give up until we have won; or reached a consensual agreement; or, in the event that never happens, have fully exposed every detail of HBOS Reading that we have uncovered. That’s our choice but, for anyone starting out on such a battle, I would say, if you can, mediate, mediate, mediate. You may not get everything you want but never, ever feel guilty for compromising and for not taking our path if there’s a path that gives you and your family a resolution you can live with. You’ve only got the one life and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to spend years fighting mega wealthy and corrupt organisations.

  4. But if you are determined to win the fight be aware you really are involved in a David v Goliath battle and Goliath is a huge, mean and unprincipled giant!

    So on your darkest days, just remember, “the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Tell yourself that over and over everyday and you will win.

If these pointer help even one person, then it has been worth publishing them. I really hope they do!

©Nikki Turner 2015

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.

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

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.

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

 

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?

Ming the Merciless v Flash Gordon. What made Britain a ‘State of Anxiety’?

I very rarely watch films in bed – mostly because the television in my bedroom is ancient and prone to turning itself off half way through a film. Or you get the picture but no sound – very frustrating. However last Monday (Bank Holiday), with both daughters and granddaughter away and as it was bucketing down with rain, I ended up staying in bed to watch Flash Gordon and the TV, in charitable mode, actually worked. I’ve never watched this film all the way through and every now and then, I enjoy watching something deliciously ridiculous. So a pleasant morning.

But my mind always strays whatever film I’m watching and something Ming the Merciless said to Flash, made it stray again. Ming suggested he would like to have Flash on his side and he would give him an entire planet of his own where Flash could rule over everyone, in exchange for his loyalty. The planet was Earth and Ming confirmed he would do such terrible things to the planet prior to handing it over, Flash would not recognise the people on Earth. “You’ll make them slaves” Flash suggests? “Let’s just say they’ll be satisfied with less” Ming replies (that’s from memory, so don’t quote me but you get the gist).

It made me think of the relationship we earthlings have with our so called ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the financial sector. There was a time when we, as the customer, expected and even assumed the people running banks were decent, professional, ethical and even helpful people. Just like the people on the adverts and a bank manager was such a pillar of the establishment, he could even sign your passport. As for the CEO or Chairman of a bank? They were, quite naturally, beyond reproach.

Times have changed radically and, while I don’t suggest the majority of employee’s in the financial sector are intentionally bad people, most of us don’t bat an eyelid now even when we hear how banks (bankers) are laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, manipulating LIBOR or screwing their customers every which way. Worse than that, we seem to have accepted the ridiculous myth no-one is personally to blame for any criminal conduct in the banking world and senior bankers should still get bonuses for running what are, in some cases, organised crime syndicates. How did that happen? When did we accept becoming a banana republic?

One of the things we are possibly all agreed on – and even bankers – is how over extended credit was a major contributory factor to the credit crunch. People with low incomes were encouraged to take on mortgages they couldn’t afford; banks were issuing credit cards like they were ‘Smarties’; businesses were getting massive loans and; even students with no incomes were offered big overdrafts. Of course no one had to accept any of these loans but, in a consumer society where “credit is good for the economy” was the motto of the day and, as the rise in house prices became totally out of sync with what people earned, many people did. And while some of the public pushed themselves to the absolute maximum in the borrowing stakes, the banks, who based their bonus structures on loans, went even further.

Then the crunch came and suddenly the huge and fundamental difference between the people (who the banks had willingly lent money to) and the banks, became horribly transparent. The banks got all or most of the money they lost back from the taxpayer (the people) on the grounds they would re-float the economy – which they didn’t do. Meanwhile the people had no one to bail them out and, almost overnight, this situation was exacerbated when the banks started aggressively demanding back the money they’d lent consumers. It was a double whammy – the credit crunch caused mass austerity on the one hand (cuts in every aspect of public funding except MPs and bankers’ wages) and, on the other hand, not only did future credit dry up, the terms for existing credit were harshly altered – although the terms and conditions which enabled this were always in the small print, tucked away discreetly for a rainy day.

I’m not talking about PPI or LIBOR or IRSA or even major bank frauds here – just how the basic principles of the bank / consumer relationship, changed. The banks, who were so eager to extend credit one day, were demanding it back with menaces the next. And the methods they’ve used over the last 6 years are often akin to those used by the playground bully. Here’s a couple of examples:

Bank of Scotland has been ordered to compensate a customer for harassment after it made an astonishing 547 calls to recover a debt. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/banking/2013/07/bullying-bank-ordered-to-pay-up-for-harassing-customer-know-your-rights

‘You have 24 hours’: Devastating tape reveals how RBS accused of bullying warned struggling chain of chemists it could call in the administrators http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2516063/Tape-reveals-RBS-warned-chain-chemists-administrators.html#ixzz3BaDHrbWr 

(Sorry – the above link, is temporarily not working)

Every bad thing about banks got horribly worse after the historic events of October 2008 when Gordon (Brown that is, not Flash) and his chums created a completely different pecking order in the country he was supposedly running as a democracy. And sadly, I have to conclude the end result has caused Britain to be a ‘State of Anxiety.’

Fear has always been an efficient if immoral tool to control large numbers of people. People who are frightened tend not to ‘rock the boat.’ Most of us don’t have grandiose ambitions and it’s the idea of losing the simple basics in life we’ve worked hard for, that cause the greatest fear. Therefore, regardless of how bad the game has become, we keep playing it. We don’t worry about getting run over by a bus because we don’t think it will ever happen. We don’t worry a meteorite will smash into earth and we’ll be obliterated because we know there’s nothing we could do about it. But the idea of losing your family home for instance, is a situation that cripples people with fear. I know because I’ve been through 22 eviction hearings. My particular case, or cases, were complicated and I can’t go into detail because of Operation Hornet and sub judice. But whatever the reason anyone is staring eviction in the face, the sickening fear of it becoming a reality, is always the same. It’s debilitating and crushing.

So paying your mortgage to keep your house is a number one priority which means, at all costs, you must keep your job (even if you hate your job because the new corporate order means you are asked to do things you feel are morally unacceptable). Paying that mortgage to the bank is definitely going to keep you playing the game.

But what happens if you lose your job because your employer was one of the thousands of SME owners who have been sent to the wall (administration or liquidation) by the banks who have unethically demanded long term loans be paid back overnight? Or if you worked for an SME that was a creditor of a company forced into administration which has, as a consequence, then hit the wall itself? What happens if, through no fault of your own, there is no job to pay the mortgage?

In those instances it’s an amazingly short scenario to the really basic problem of things like food. Benefits are few and far between these days (cutting those on benefits also cuts the numbers of unemployed). Who would have believed hundreds of thousands of people in Britain would have to rely on food banks? How frightening is it when you have to rely on charity to feed your family? And it happened so quickly – austerity, job losses, benefit cuts and food banks.

I could go on – electricity, travel costs, school fees, health care, old age with inadequate pensions…. what it all adds up to is anxiety and fear for a lot of people. And when people live with fear, just keeping your head above water is a priority. Questioning why you are in that situation becomes a secondary consideration – first you have to survive.

Meanwhile, the masters of the universe most responsible for where we are – what’s happened to them? In the majority of cases they have just continued to receive mega fees, bonuses and pension pots for failing with vigour. Should we feel sorry for the likes of James Crosby, who lost his knighthood and even had to forego a third of his six figure pension pot? I think most people don’t even care. Their own personal angst totally and reasonably excludes the bigger picture. Which is very convenient for those who do their best to make us forget how we got to where we are.

The comments from Ming the Merciless made me think – has the aftermath of the credit crunch brow beaten us all to the point we ‘except less’ and ‘accept the unacceptable’? Is this why we don’t shout and scream when shareholders (including the taxpayer), who’ve already lost a fortune in banks like HBOS, RBS and Lloyds, see millions of pounds being paid in fines for criminal conduct in banks as opposed to holding CEOs and Chairmen to account for what happens on their watch? Is this why we unbelievably seem to accept one law for the masses and one for the elite? Much as I hate the very idea, I think that may well be the case and I even wrote to David Cameron asking for him for some clarification on this point:

Dear Mr Cameron,

I and many other people were stunned by the quotes from the chief executive-designate of the Prudential Regulation Authority, which were reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (December 14th, 2012).

Mr Bailey seems to have confirmed that, irrespective of their criminal actions, banks are not only “too big to fail”; they are also “too big to prosecute”. In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Bailey said that prosecuting banks and by implication their executive and non-executive directors,

would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.”

Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted ……..

…..If justice is indeed now a ‘private members’ club’, then it is to up to you, Mr Cameron, to explain this to the British public. And, as I am sure you are aware, there is a real danger that the country will descend into lawlessness if the law is unevenly applied and enforced. If you really intend proceeding down the path seemingly advocated by Mr Bailey, then you risk going down in history as the Prime Minister who did more than any other to undermine the legitimacy of the British state……

http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I have never had a reply to my letter and the lack of reply speaks volumes.

My point: Has the so called ‘credit crunch’ worked out badly for everyone? Or has it enabled some very sinister aspects of society to come to the forefront and control us all via economic fear? I think that is exactly what’s happened. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Here’s the definition of that saying from the Cambridge Dictionaries on line: “said to emphasize that the person who is paying someone to do something can decide how it should be done”

There is no doubt the banks can afford to pay the piper – and how crazy is it our elected representatives gave the banks that money from the public purse? They gave the banks so much money, it seems even Governments can no longer call up a good tune these days.

Of course, in the film (and the comics), Flash Gordon never gives in to the likes of Ming. He risks everything to save the world. I can’t help feeling our modern day equivalents, who endlessly profess to be fighting for the greater good (especially running up to elections), have gone completely off track – and they only ever seem to save the inhabitants of La La land – which is a very small island somewhere between the Cayman Islands and Monte Carlo. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for capitalism – who doesn’t want to be rich? I lived in a Communist Country for two years and it was like – well actually it was similar to what we have in Britain now – some very wealthy and very arrogant people suppressing the rights of ordinary people. We have the same kind of lunacy now masquerading as democracy. If it was just happening in a cartoon or a film, I would maybe call it deliciously ridiculous. In real life, it’s not the least bit entertaining and it’s very disturbing. And not least because the authorities we all thought we could rely on (after all we vote for them), are the very people who are allowing this absurd situation to continue. Where will it end?

BTW, you may remember, at the end of the Flash Gordon film, a random hand reaches out and takes the ‘all powerful’ ring Ming wore. Clearly Ming wasn’t really dead and was just biding his time before having another go at world domination (there’s always one). I am reliably informed Ming the Merciless is currently residing in La La Land rent free, in exchange for doing a bit of consultancy work for the great and good.

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. http://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.’

Do the crime – the shareholders pay the fine. Painless. But does crime pay for Lloyds Bank?

Talking to my twitter friends in the last few days, some of whom are in the process of taking legal action against various banks, I begin to wonder how much money banks are paying in legal fees these days? And I’m also wondering how much it would cost them to simply compensate people making serious allegations against them as opposed to going to Court? Would it be cheaper? Who knows but in cases where the evidence is indisputable, it would certainly help a bank’s reputation.

But no – in so many cases, they just insist black is white or rather, they get their very costly lawyers to say it for them. And even a simple letter can cost them a fortune, depending who writes it.

For example, over the past 7 years, I’ve lost count of how many letters Paul and I have had from the various legal firms in HBOS/Lloyds employ and quite a lot of them have come from Denton Wilde Sapte (now called SR Dentons), on behalf of Peter Cummings, Lord Stevenson, the Boards of HBOS and then LBG. And, because Paul and I have apparently upset the Bank so much with our allegations, those letters came from the then Deputy Chairman of DWS, Rory McAlpine (he’s left Dentons, so we haven’t heard from him for quite a while). Not only that, he also trooped up to the Cambridge County Court 6 times at enormous cost to the Bank, or rather it’s shareholders, in an attempt to secure our eviction – which fortunately, didn’t happen and in which he was not instructed.

Mr McAlpine is no lightweight in the legal world and, as top lawyers and certainly Partners in the big law firms, demand and get top dollar, those letters will not have come cheap: Britain’s biggest law firms are shamelessly exploiting the maxim that “you get what you pay for”, with hourly fees at record levels of £850 an hour, according to new research. Independent 26 November 2013 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/justice-costs-fury-as-lawyers-fees-top-850an-hour-8965339.html

Admittedly most of the legal letters we’ve had from HBOS or Lloyds Banking Group, have been quite short (it takes a limited amount of words to say bugger off) but, as the letters they were replying to were generally rather long (we were trying our hardest to give them the full picture of what was going on in their HBOS Reading branch), it’s fair to assume that, between receiving instruction to write on behalf of the Bank’s Board, then reading our letters and writing the reply, Rory would have spent a couple of hours per letter. That’s at least £1700.00 per letter. Okay, so letters from someone like Mr McAlpine (who now advises Mr Abramovich) were always likely to be fairly costly but, even junior lawyers in the magic circle law firms get charged out at £450 – £500 an hour these days. Lets say £900 per letter. Then multiply that by 1000? 10,000?

Here’s some stats from Moneywise: In the last six months of 2013, Lloyds bank were the most complained about bank with 40,500 complaints going to the Financial Ombudsman; 2nd came Bank of Scotland, with 39,134 complaints to the FoS. http://www.moneywise.co.uk/news/2014-03-04/lloyds-tops-list-most-complained-about-banks

Erring on the side of caution, it would be fair to say about 150,000 people complained about Lloyds TSB or BoS in 2013. Many of those will have got the bog standard, in-house letters to say get lost but, assuming 20% merited at least one letter from the likes of Dentons or Herbert Smith or who ever is currently flavour of the month, at £900+ per letter, that works out at £27M – from one Bank.

Then add the fines – including the fines for handling customer complaints badly. In 2013, the FSA fined Lloyds Banking Group and BoS a total of £32,343,800.00. And that money was paid for (of course) by the shareholders. Did it do any good? Apparently not, because on 28th July this year Lloyds bank Plc and BoS were fined £105M for “serious misconduct relating to the Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS), the Repo Rate benchmark and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). http://www.fca.org.uk/firms/being-regulated/enforcement/fines

As part of the ‘agreement’ reached, Lloyds also had to pay £62M to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and £51M to the Department of Justice in the USA. And to top it all off, the bill for PPI payments from Lloyds has almost reached £10BN: The cost of the payment protection mis-selling scandal has hit more than £22bn after Lloyds Banking Group said it was setting aside an extra £1.8bn to compensate customers. It takes the cost for Lloyds alone to just short of £10bn after the bank, which is one-third owned by the taxpayer, revealed the extra costs in a surprise trading update less than two weeks before its annual results announcement.
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/feb/03/lloyds-ppi-compensation-bill-10-billion-pounds

Then there’s the various shareholder groups waiting to sue the Bank with group actions (one group is apparently suing for £4BN) and, of course, the many SME owners who are due compensation for the many and various ways their businesses have been destroyed by the Bank.

My point is: surely we have reached the stage where banks and bankers should start realising ‘crime does not pay.’ Yes it may have worked for years for the Mafia and Organised crime syndicates but they don’t have to worry about their reputations. If anything, their crimes have been glamorised by the media and the public and, whatever atrocious crimes they commit, end up, sooner or later, as blockbuster movies or spectacular TV series. But what works for Tony Soprano (RIP) just doesn’t work for bankers. Villains or professional criminals work with the motto “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Bankers, on the other hand, seem to have a motto of “we commit the crimes, the shareholders pay the fines but we always get our bonuses.” People are getting sick of it. Bankers make lousy bank robbers, they get caught all the time and worse than that, our regulators make lousy sheriffs, they do eventually catch the robbers but only penalise the victims (shareholders).

I read an article today by Mark Kleinman, Sky News, where he quoted Antonio Horta-Osorio saying:

“Enforcement and fines have an important role as a credible deterrent against future misconduct.
“But the new rules will potentially reverse the burden of proof where individuals are guilty until they prove themselves innocent in the eyes of the regulator.
“I worry that this could incentivise people to do nothing, as they could waste their time trying to create a paper trail rather than doing what they should be doing, focusing on customers.
“Secondly everyone makes mistakes. If you do a major thing wrong like causing the failure of a bank you should be held accountable for the decisions that you made. But we need to separate the major mistakes from the small ones which will always happen.”

I totally agree Mr H-O, everyone makes mistakes – but that’s where we part company. The mistakes Lloyds Bank sees as “small ones”, are actually the mistakes that ruin people’s lives. And, in the case of the many SMEs that have been totally trashed by HBOS/Lloyds, was that a mistake or was it, as it seems with GRG, a deliberate policy?

I get it that many of the mistakes Lloyds are dealing with now, were in relation to BoS, HBOS or the former management of Lloyds Banking Group but, unfortunately, it’s your watch now Mr H-O. In my opinion, it would be much better for Lloyds Bank to really deal with the skeletons of the past and then go back to traditional banking. The way things are going, a few more major fines, a couple of big group actions by unhappy shareholders, a lot more SME owners suing the bank and a few thousand more of those £900 legal letters – there won’t even be enough money left to buy hay for the black horse. As things stand, the only winners are the lawyers, who must be thoroughly satisfied with ‘bank conduct’, because its making them a fortune. And don’t get me started on auditors and administrators, who seem to be doing as well if not better than the ‘consigliere.’

p.s I wrote this blog last night (Friday 15th) and the first thing I’ve seen on twitter this morning is another article in the Daily Mail about the horrendous sales culture in Lloyds Bank. What’s wrong with this Bank? Is it trying to lose customers? And, considering the ongoing sales culture, how did the Bank manage to include the following in last year’s annual accounts (page 43 of Lloyds Banking Group 2013 results):
Conduct Risk:
Principal risks

As a major financial services provider we face significant conduct risk, including selling products to customers which do not meet their needs; failing to deal with customers’ complaints effectively; not meeting customer expectations; and exhibiting behaviours which do not meet market or regulatory standards.

Mitigating actions

Customer focused conduct strategy implemented to ensure customers are at the heart of everything we do.

Product approval, review process and outcome testing supported by conduct management information.

Clearer customer accountabilities for colleagues, including rewards with customer-centric metrics.

Really?