Leaked RBS report shows ‘criminal behaviour’ at bank, says Norfolk businessman
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Staff plotting to help themselves to stock from a bankrupt shop, struggling firms viewed as money-making opportunities and a memo telling staff to let some customers 'hang themselves'.
The full report by the financial watchdog into how the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) mistreated small businesses in its turnaround division is 'deeply shocking,' according to one MP.
But for some Norfolk businessmen, who lost their firms when RBS put them into its turnaround unit called the Global Restructuring Group (GRG), it comes as no surprise.
Businesses affected have been battling for years for redress from the taxpayer-owned bank - and last week they got more confirmation of what they had long experienced.
The confidential 361-page report by regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) into the way businesses in GRG were mistreated was leaked online.
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Andy Keats, from East Tuddenham, lost his business Keepsafe in Dereham in 2007 after it was put into part of GRG.
He said RBS never told him at the time they had put his company, which produced ID tags for pets, into the restructuring unit which was meant to be for struggling firms.
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His company was making a healthy profit, but it shut when the bank terminated its credit card facilities. The former police officer said that in his opinion the FCA report showed 'criminal behaviour'.
The report did not uphold the most serious allegations – that RBS deliberately caused businesses to fail so it could take their assets on the cheap.
But it confirms that from 2008 to 2013, when 5,900 firms were put into GRG, there was 'widespread inappropriate treatment' of customers.
Rather than trying to turnaround the struggling businesses, which it claimed it was doing, its focus was on using them to make money for itself.
According to a copy of the report, seen by this newspaper, GRG was a 'profit centre' for the bank.
Few firms put into GRG ever came out of it again and once in there they were charged large and complicated fees.
Some of the poor treatment of customers was 'systematic', the report added, and there was a failure to oversee conflicts of interest within GRG.
When customers did complain, they felt ignored.
An internal survey in 2013 of GRG customers found they felt 'bullied, threatened, often exploited', according to the report.
Staff, meanwhile, were not trained in turning business around, but in making money from them.
They did this by charging small businesses fees which were arrived at with little thought.
One GRG manager told the report's authors about deciding fees: 'It's not rocket science. It would have been just sort of done in your head really.'
This is backed up by a memo sent to RBS staff in one office, which was published in January.
Entitled 'Just Hit Budget', the 2009 memo said about fees: 'Avoid round number fees - £5,300 sounds as if you have thought about it, £5k sounds like you haven't'.
It adds: 'Sometimes you need to let customers hang themselves'.
In one email in the FCA report GRG staff were told to help themselves to goods from a customer whose business was going under. Another email was disrespectful of a client's nationality.
The report looked at 207 cases and found inappropriate treatment in around 90pc of them.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the report's findings were 'deeply shocking'.
'It is extraordinary that despite what has happened no one has been held to account,' he said.
He urged to the regulator, the FCA, to 'show some teeth'.
Norwich architect Andi Gibbs, who lost his company, when it was placed in GRG, said: 'We knew the failures were there because we were the victims.
'The report confirms some of the things we have been saying but there is more to it than that.'
He said one reason businesses were struggling and put into GRG was because of the financial products RBS sold them.
A former RBS manager turned whistleblower, Mark Wright from north Norfolk, said he was delighted to finally see a version of the long-awaited report.
But Mr Wright, who is part of an organisation called Bank Confidential, said he was 'deeply concerned' that it did not reflect the reasons many businesses fell into GRG in the first place.
•Will secret report be published?
Regulator the FCA has refused to publish the report into RBS's Global Restructuring Group (GRG), believing it would break confidentiality laws by doing so.
But a version has been leaked online and copies have also been sent to newspapers.
MPs on the Treasury Select Committee ordered the FCA to give them a copy of it which it did on Friday.
They will now meet on Tuesday to decide when to publish it.
Last autumn the FCA published a summary of the report, which Norwich South MP Clive Lewis described as 'sanitised' - something the FCA denies.
RBS has admitted the report makes for 'very difficult reading'.
It has set aside £400m to compensate small businesses affected and also apologised for mistakes, adding it is now a very different bank.
But it denies the most serious allegation of deliberately causing firms to fail in GRG.