Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) allegedly tried to turn a profit from failing businesses and embarked on a “dash for cash” to boost fee income.
Firms earmarked for help from RBS were hit with hefty fees and fines and saw their assets bought up on the cheap, according to an investigation by BBC and BuzzFeed.
Confidential files leaked to media organisations suggest bank staff could also pocket bigger bonuses by pinpointing firms for a restructure in what an RBS executive described as a “dash for cash”.
RBS, which is 73 per cent owned by the taxpayer, said it had let some of its business customers down, but found no evidence that it had deliberately tried to push firms into insolvency or buy their assets below market price.
Around 12,000 were placed into the RBS’ turnaround arm – Global Restructuring Group – following the banking crisis of 2008. The unit is alleged to have brought in extra fee income by squeezing small businesses.
Jon Pain, RBS’ chief conduct and regulatory affairs officer, said: “RBS has been very clear that GRG’s role was to protect the bank’s position, where possible by working with distressed businesses to return them to financial health.
“In the aftermath of the financial crisis we did not always meet our own high standards and we let some of our SME customers down.”
“In regard to the wider allegations raised, we have found no evidence that the bank either inappropriately targeted such businesses to transfer them to GRG or drove them to insolvency,” he added. “Nor did it buy their assets at a lower than market price.”
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Wednesday that it had received a report investigating allegations of malpractice at RBS’ GRG unit.
FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey told a Treasury Select Committee session in July that he hoped the GRG report would be published by the end of the year.
Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the Treasury committee, said: the FCA needed to publish its report as soon as possible and he would write to the city watchdog demanding a publication date.
“On the basis of what has come out so far, “This appears to be a shocking story.”, with many businesses at the wrong end of it, and who deserved better.
“The longer the delay in publication, the longer that many small firms may have to wait to receive any compensation.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Clearly these are very serious allegations that have been made against RBS.
“It is right that the FCA investigates these claims thoroughly, which it is in the process of doing.
“While that investigation is ongoing into what are very serious allegations it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Government to comment on the substance of those allegations.”