Tag Archives: Peter Cummings

Dear Sirs, this is hardly flattering. Please redact. #HBOS

IMG_3454I’m confused – for years now the FSA followed by the FCA have been looking into the conduct of HBOS. Whether or not he is considered good guy or bad guy, I know Hector Sants (who admittedly took some persuading) was eventually keen to get to the bottom of what had been going on in HBOS and he wasn’t in the mood for ‘cover up’ when he released the BoS Censure Report in March 2012. Not long after that he mysteriously went from being the golden boy tipped to take a top job at the Bank of England, to relative anonymity. Since then nothing has been heard about the Section 168 Report commenced in June 2010 specifically into HBOS Reading (probably because of the ever pending criminal trials due to start in January 2016) and the overall report into HBOS and its top management has been continually delayed.

Articles in the press yesterday seem to confirm that report will be out next month (October 2015). However, even now, after the endless delays and God knows how much spent in legal fees by the Bank (I imagine Lloyds has picked up the bill for Stevenson, Hornby, Cummings and Crosby – if he’s actually included) and the regulator, we have now been warned to expect redactions.

How does that work? The regulator does an in depth investigation into the catastrophic demise of HBOS and the people who were running the Bank don’t like the conclusions the FCA have reached – so they are able to have certain parts redacted. I’m not saying the report found anything criminal (although in my personal view I fail to see how it couldn’t have found some very shady conduct) but even in a civil court, could someone ask a Judge to redact the bits of evidence they don’t like? Imagine, “your honour, I don’t think the evidence before you puts me in a favourable light so I’d like that bit crossed out.” I would love to have any current photo taken of me photo shopped so I look thirty years younger but the truth is, I’m not. These possible redactions are similarly trying to change history – and it can’t be done. Neither should anyone countenance attempts to do so.

I have been told (repeatedly) that the FCA has quite extraordinary powers, should it care to use them. I know the powers of the FSA were split between the FCA and the PRA but all the same, how can top bankers or their legal teams, oblige the regulator to redact the findings of its own report? It makes no sense. Neither does the sharp ‘Harp’ exit of Mr Wheatley make sense. I find the whole thing very concerning. Rumour (or the media) has it, Mr Wheatley was too ‘consumer friendly’ and this did not fit in with Mr Osborne’s plans to make sure the City Of London retains pride of place in the financial world. Which is a bit odd because lately, even the BBC has been portraying the Square Mile as something akin to the Guild of Thieves from the Disk World.

Therefore, what worries me is this: if Mr Wheatley had to go because he wasn’t banker friendly enough, how can we expect Mr Osborne to allow a full, frank portrayal of what went on at HBOS?

Although various MPs and, I think, the TSC have demanded to see any redacted passages, how can other people, who have first hand experience of what was going on at HBOS, ever challenge what they will never see? I do know what some of the information and evidence the PRA received to contribute to this report was, as I sent some, as did Paul Moore. We didn’t send it randomly in the hope someone would read it, we were in direct contact with the PRA and the Bank of England via the Governor and we know they all received and read our evidence. Consequently we have our own views on what the FCA Report should include. It’s not a pretty picture and I have often wondered how the bankers concerned would refute this evidence? Well obviously, if the contentious or nasty bits of the report are redacted, they won’t have to!

Redaction has been a big issue with SME Alliance recently. Members sending Direct Access Requests (DSAR) to get their information from their own central files in banks (mostly RBS) have received such varied replies, we’ve asked both RBS and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to clarify exactly what members should expect to get. The answers so far have been as clear as mud but it is pretty clear no one should be getting entire pages redacted. Neither should anyone be getting information that has been manipulated or tampered with (that’s another story coming soon). We are struggling to get to the bottom of Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and a definitive interpretation. But I’m not sure Section 7 of the DPA was ever intended as a barrier to regulators publishing reports on banks or bankers! Neither was Maxwellisation and the remarkable Re-Maxwellisation meant to be used as a means of delay or ‘cover up.’ These are clearly new techniques invented by the very clever (and well paid) lawyers of La La Land – but that doesn’t mean we or the regulators should blithely accept them.

My other concern is that while this report may actually be more candid than others before it (I’m remembering the 1 page press release fiasco from Lord Turner about RBS http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmtreasy/640/640.pdf ), it will be written in such a way as to minimise any potential legal actions against Lloyds Banking Group who merged with HBOS. Contagion is a huge issue for the banks and I’m sure the emphasis of this report will be on “this is what HBOS did but Lloyds were totally unaware of any of this.” Which begs the question (again) – why would Lloyds go ahead with such a critical merger without knowing chapter and verse of what they were getting involved with? Money laundering rules being what they are these days (or profess to be), banks need so much information to open an account, I’m waiting for “what colour knickers are you wearing” to be added to the list of KYC questions. So it is inconceivable Lloyds had inadequate detail about their new partner. And, in my opinion, Lloyds didn’t just merge with HBOS, they’ve done a pretty good job at morphing into the same sort of unethical and unattractive organisation.

Last thing – I know many victims of HBOS have waited years now for some sort of closure. The criminal trials regarding HBOS Reading have taken years to happen (if they ever do) and the various reports on HBOS have been endlessly delayed and now (probably) redacted. While I don’t suppose the ex management of HBOS have been quite as cavalier about the FCA report as they were about running the bank, I very much doubt if any of them have suffered anything like the hardship the banks’ victims have. Some of us have had our businesses ruined and our lives on hold for many years. Not to mention the many people who lost their savings and their retirement plans via the disastrous way HBOS was run. So I really hope, regardless of the HMT’s desire to hang on to its golden goose (that many of us feel is actually a dead duck), that when the HBOS Report does finally come out, it is as honest as harsh and as damning as it should be. Hector left us with the BoS Censure Report – before Mr Wheatley left, let’s hope he finished the job and, for once, let the blame fall where it’s due.

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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.

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?