Shame in the City: £2.6bn fine leaves London’s reputation in tatters


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In one of the darkest days in the histories of the City and Wall Street, six major banks were have been fined a total of £2.6bn by regulators. A seventh, Barclays, is still in talks over the size of its penalty. 

The punishments came after an inquiry by watchdogs in Britain, the US and Switzerland into rigging of the foreign-exchange market. Over £3trn is traded daily on the international currency market, and the banks’ traders were found to have manipulated prices.

What was shocking, even by the standards of the scandals of the past few years, was what regulators portrayed as the arrogance of the bank employees. They formed groups and gave themselves nicknames such as “the A team”, or “the Three Musketeers”. They communicated with each other via chatrooms.

One HSBC trader complained in an email to another team member who had not given him the information he needed: “You are useless... how can I make free money with no fcking heads up.”

The report, by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, laid bare the contempt in which some bank employees hold their banks, colleagues and clients. But what is especially shaming was that the manipulation occurred recently – after a series of scandals which resulted in banks paying enormous fines and employees losing their jobs. This gives the lie to the claim by the banking community they were reforming their ways and were doing everything they could to prevent misdemeanours.

HSBC alone was fined £216m in the UK and 5m in the US (Reuters)

The level of organisation among the traders and their sustained trickery shows the banks were still not managing their businesses properly – and highlights yet again the problem of banks that have become too big to control.

The disregard shown by the traders for others also raises questions about the seriousness of the banks’ efforts to transform their internal cultures, something they said they would do in the light of the 2008 banking crisis, when the world almost went into financial meltdown as a result of bankers’ greed.