Leaked files exposed by BuzzFeed in a report today, and to be featured on BBC Newsnight tonight, have finally led to some public acknowledgement by RBS that the affairs of its Global Restructuring Group were not as they should have been.
The files, which BuzzFeed say contain thousands of secret documents, provide some clear evidence of what lawyers for GRG customers have been saying for years. Namely, that the activities of GRG, including steps such as increasing fees and interest and revaluing properties downwards, often hastened the demise of customers rather than assisting their return to health.
The report also highlights the role of the RBS connected company- West Register. Its main function was to purchase properties over which RBS had foreclosed and there have long been complaints that these sales, which were clearly not at arm’s length, resulted in lower prices than could be achieved in a truly competitive market. BuzzFeed’s files support that.
The Treasury Committee, headed by Andrew Tyrie, has been watching GRG events closely and the hope now must be that these documents be given to the committee. Even without that, BuzzFeed’s report provides ammunition for the committee to apply pressure on the FCA. The Treasury Committee is already aware that the six year cut-off date for court claims against RBS has expired in many cases or is close to expiration and that there is urgency that the report be published.
The hope remains that the FCA direct that an effective compensation scheme be set up for GRG customers rather than businesses, who have already suffered, having to go through the litigation processes against RBS. Here, the FCA has to learn from the deplorable experience of the scheme it set up with the banks in June 2012 to compensate some of the purchasers of Interest Rate Swaps. There, the bank, as perpetrator, was put in charge of the compensation scheme and was, effectively, investigator and judge of its own wrongs. The FCA needs to introduce a robust and patently independent compensation scheme for those who have suffered at the hands of GRG and with entirely transparent processes so that the complainant is as much aware of what has happened whilst in GRG as the bank.
Of the many shocking facts revealed by BuzzFeed, one stands out. That although GRG was publicly trumpeted as an organisation that helped to try to restore businesses to good health, a RBS email reveals that businesses were put into GRG just because of a “breakdown of customer relationship” or if a “customer litigates against the bank”. So, GRG, was in fact, in some cases used as a punishment for those who dared to question the bank’s motives or behaviour.
BuzzFeed’s report provides clear confirmation of what had been revealed by the Lawrence Tomlinson report, and other material, that RBS had strong financial incentives for adopting questionable steps to wind down its lending to property companies or to companies where property was significant security for the borrowing. RBS had its back against the wall following the financial crash in 2008, and was prepared to see customers’ businesses sacrificed in its quest to improve its financial position or as one RBS email describes it– the “Project Dash for Cash”.
“At last the evidence is coming out in a big way. The thousands of secret documents that BuzzFeed News and the BBC say they have seen supports what RBS customers have been saying to us for many years about GRG but because the evidence has been secret, they have not had access to it. The hope is that the FCA will do the decent thing by RBS customers and set up an effective and independent compensation scheme, rather than customers being forced to take the matter through the courts, which many cannot afford to do because of the very fact of the damage done to them by GRG”.