The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been placed under the spotlight with regards to its treatment of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that experienced financial difficulties and were referred to its Global Restructuring Group (GRG). The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), heavily criticised for its failure to publish the full report of an investigation into the business practices within RBS’s GRG has, in the last fortnight, released an interim summary of the report. The report itself makes for an uncomfortable read, highlighting serious issues with regards to the treatment of SMEs within RBS, amid allegations that it was this treatment that led to the failure of these SMEs, detrimentally affecting the livelihood of those involved with the businesses as a result.
This episode serves to highlight the lack of options available to SME customers who feel that they have been mistreated by their bank. Despite the FCA now indicating that they will take steps to extend the scope of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) to enable SME access to the service, there are still questions about the scope of the regulatory regime and its applicability to SMEs. As will be demonstrated, the structure of the regime itself has, thus far, operated to exclude SMEs from access to redress. This blog will analyse the current position for SMEs and will assess the viability of potential reform to the FOS. (more…)
It has not been a good few weeks for the banking industry. In America Wells Fargo has been rocked by a scandal in which staff have been found to have fraudulently opened accounts for customers as a way of meeting sales targets. Deutsche Bank has teetered on the brink of disaster as a result of the size of the penalty it is facing in the US for misselling mortgage bonds. In Singapore the Monetary Authority has penalised two banks for anti-money laundering failures and control lapses and has withdrawn the license of a third bank for such failures. For once, the major UK based banks have been out of the headlines. However, the Financial Conduct Authority has added to the picture by penalising the Bangladeshi Sonali Bank (UK) Ltd £3.11 million and Steven Smith, the bank’s Compliance Officer and Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) a further £17,900 for anti money laundering (AML) failures. The bank was also prohibited from accepting deposits from new customers for a period of 168 days and Smith prohibited from performing a range of functions in the industry.
The Sonali Bank decisions are further examples of the FCA using its enforcement powers to send messages to the industry. It is part of the attempt to change the culture in banking and to reduce, if not eliminate, risk which might threaten the integrity of the banking system as a whole. It is widely accepted that money laundering poses a significant threat to the integrity of the financial system. As a result, firms are required to adopt rigorous controls aimed at minimising the risk of money laundering occurring. The facts of Sonali concerned these AML obligations. The case is a good example of the fact that the criminal offences which are commonly said to place banks under a stringent obligation to guard against money laundering are, in practice, of much less significance than regulatory action concerning failures taken by the FCA. (more…)