RBS boss admits restructuring ‘mistake’

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RBS chief executive Ross McEwan told MPs a 2014 claim was ‘not right’

RBS boss Ross McEwan has admitted a statement he made claiming that bank’s Global Restructuring Group helped most of its business customers was wrong.

He made the admission to MPs on the Treasury Select Committee on Tuesday.

They were taking evidence on a leaked regulator’s report that found an “intentional, co-ordinated strategy” to put RBS’s interests ahead of customers.

Mr McEwan said RBS “successfully turns round the vast majority of businesses that it works with”.

He added: “The bank, through its restructuring team, helped minimise those losses where it could, successfully turning round thousands of businesses, safeguarding hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

However, Treasury committee chair Nicky Morgan forced an admission from Mr McEwan that his statement was wrong in the light of an official report leaked to the BBC.

“You made a statement in 2014 about GRG turning around the vast majority of businesses that it works with and I’m asking you – that statement was not true?” she asked.

“In 2014, absolutely when you look at the stats that have come through – that is not right,” Mr McEwan said.

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The 2014 statement drew from findings by solicitors Clifford Chance, appointed by RBS to conduct what it claimed was an “independent inquiry” into allegations of mistreatment of business customers.

Mr McEwan claimed at the time: “Our first priority then and now is to try and help our customers recover.”

That statement was contradicted by the central finding of an inquiry commissioned by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which concluded in 2016 and was leaked to the BBC last August.

The inquiry, conducted by consultants Promontory and Mazars, found the bank had twin objectives: its own commercial interests on the one hand, and helping business customers turn their fortunes around on the other. It concluded there there were conflicts of interest between those objectives.

The leaked report also found that only 10% of business customers put into the Global Restructuring Group were subsequently returned to normal banking. It also found 86% were subject to some form of inappropriate treatment – which in important respects should be viewed as “systematic”.

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Following the hearing, the FCA said it was happy to realise the report into GRG in full after Mr McEwan indicated that the bank would not object.

However, it said publication would require the consent of those who provided the information as well as any individuals identified.

“We will approach these individuals, once the work on the focused investigation is completed, to ask for their consent to publish,” the FCA said.

‘Considerable distress’

Tony Boorman, managing director of Promontory consultants who authored the FCA report, told MPs that the effect of their actions on small business customers was not “uppermost in the minds” of GRG staff.

“We were very conscious in speaking to many of the customers in our sample of the very considerable distress that was caused by some of the events that we witnessed,” he said.

Mr McEwan repeated apologies first made in 2016 that RBS “didn’t get everything right”, but refused to accept that staff had been “insensitive and aggressive”.

That drew an angry response from Alister Jack MP, who cited his own experience as a business owner in conflict with the bankers from the GRG division in 2009.

“The manager who came to see me with his assistant … was not only aggressive, he was thuggish. He shouted at his assistant because she couldn’t make her numbers stand up, reduced her to tears, and as he left my office and headed down the stairs, he was still shouting at her.

“So don’t tell anyone that you don’t for a minute think that your staff were not aggressive, please. It’s just offensive.”