Investigation into disgraced RBS small business unit branded a 'whitewash' by MPs

Report fails to conclude whether senior managers were involved in Global Restructuring Group accused of stripping small business' assets

Ben Chapman
Thursday 13 June 2019 09:56 BST
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FCA investogation 'manifestly fails' to find out if senior management at RBS knew about the controversy
FCA investogation 'manifestly fails' to find out if senior management at RBS knew about the controversy

A report by the City watchdog into Royal Bank of Scotland's controversial restructuring business has been branded a "whitewash" by MPs.

The Financial Conduct Authority's report into RBS' Global Restructuring Group (GRG) attempted to draw a line under a scandal, but a group of MPs said it failed to find out whether the bank's senior managers were involved.

GRG was supposed to help turn around small businesses but has been accused of ruining lives by stripping customers of assets in order to benefit its own bottom line.

The bank allegedly engineered defaults on loans so that it could push valuable businesses into GRG and acquire their property.

"This report is another complete whitewash and another demonstrable failure of the regulator to perform its role," said Kevin Hollinrake, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking.

He added that the report was supposed to consider the "root causes" of the problems and to see if senior management at RBS knew about the controversy.

"They have manifestly failed to do this."

The regulator said its conclusions were backed up by an independent report.

Business groups also attacked the FCA's report. The Federation of Small businesses said it "failed to provide consolation to former GRG customers who lost everything".

National chairman Mike Cherry said: "It's troubling that this report does not provide assurance that the Senior Managers & Certification Regime would be effective were a similar scenario to arise again."

A review into GRG published last year found that it mistreated thousands of small firms by hitting them with large interest charges and new fees, among other practices.

Previously, the FCA has said it was powerless to investigate GRG because the unit was outside the regulator's remit.

New powers mean that if a similar situation were to occur again, the FCA could launch a probe, Thursday's report said

But the regulator said it would "inappropriate" to look at the GRG scandal using those new powers.

FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey, said: "GRG has been highly damaging for those customers impacted and more widely for the reputation of the banking industry.

"Combined with other issues that have impacted SMEs, it is important for all who work in this sector to regain the public's trust.

"I must acknowledge the distress felt by many of GRG's customers.

"The firm's relations with its customers were often insensitive, dismissive and sometimes too aggressive; these failings made an already stressful situation worse.

"I know that many customers of GRG therefore disagree with our decision to not take enforcement action, but I hope that this report will explain why we reached that decision."

Sir Howard Davies, chairman of RBS, welcomed the FCA final report.

He said: "The bank has acknowledged that some SME customers did not receive the treatment they should have done while in GRG during the relevant period and has apologised.

"The way the bank deals with business customers in financial difficulty today is fundamentally different to the aftermath of the financial crisis, during what was a hugely challenging time for the bank, its customers and the wider economy."

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