James Moore: Banks' redress may be too late for some firms

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The Independent Online

Outlook More than a year after the City's regulators first said there were problems with the way a previously rather arcane product called an "interest-rate swap" had been sold to thousands of small businesses, the redress is finally flowing.

Taking an early lead up on the rails is Barclays, at the offer and acceptance stage for 92 cases. Hot on its heels though, is HSBC (68). Unsurprisingly the state-backed "zombie" banks Lloyds and RBS are working like, well, zombies and bringing up the rear.

Not that Barclays and HSBC deserve any particular credit. So far the lot of them have paid out a combined £500,000 of the £15bn they've set aside.

But the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says they're all working jolly hard now and the money will really start to flow over the next few months.

It would surely have been quicker had the process not been quite so Byzantine. Not only are there three categories of product (which are themselves horribly complicated) but their treatment varies depending on an assessment of the complainant's level of "sophistication". A sort of business IQ test, then. It almost guarantees that the whole thing will drag on for years as the appeals start to flow and costs rise inexorably. This could even derail the Government's hope to start getting shot of its unwanted stakes in Lloyds, and especially RBS.

Late or delayed payment is the bane of the small business, although most of them are sadly used to it. All the same, the most pertinent number in all this was omitted from the FCA's press release yesterday: That of how many small firms have failed while waiting for all this to get sorted out. Plus an estimate of how many will fail.