Thursday, 28 August 2014

Why Bankers Make Poor Managers

If UK banks ran our restaurants, we'd all be spending a lot more time in our smallest rooms.

In the latest example, the Financial Conduct Authority found that only 2 of the 164 RBS and NatWest mortgage sales reviewed actually met the required sales standard. Even the banks’ own tests confirmed the problem that borrowers were at grave risk of being sold the wrong type of mortgage. Yet it took the banks nearly a year to stop fiddling and begin taking proper steps to resolve the issues. Worst of all, this took place in 2011 and 2012 - long after the events of 2008 had alerted everyone to just how poorly these banks were managed generally; and after numerous specific failings had been detected in their retail operatons. The same banks had just been fined for failing to screen customers and handle complaints appropriately - and had even failed to enable customers to pay bills or access money

Of course, RBS and NatWest are not alone, and the banks' problems are not confined to their retail operations. Most of the major banks are embroiled in scandals arising from lack of operational controls of one kind or another.

Over at heavily-embattled HSBC, the Chairman and Chief Executive have been whingeing about the 'cost of compliance', as if it's a dead weight they're forced to bolt-on to the side of their sales process, rather than a set of largely common-sense business rules that should be embedded in their operations. 

They don't seem to realise what a sad indictment it is on the level of management skill in the financial services industry that successive regulators since 1986 have felt obliged to spell-out in minute detail how to operate a financial services business at every level and in every scenario. As a result, no human could possibly lift a printed version of the FCA's 'Handbook'. 

The same charge can be made for failings in longer term strategy. The government had to force the banks to invest in faster payment processing capabilities, for example, and it took an extensive series of court battles before banks were finally shamed into 'voluntarily' reducing overdraft charges. The most recent indictment on the levels of skill, enthusiasm, initiative, vision and energy at the top of the UK's banks is that the government will have to regulate to make them refer rejected business funding applications to alternative lenders

That's right, UK bank executives aren't even up to negotiating simple lead-referral arrangements.

Which begs the question: what do UK bank executives actually do all day?

Why, they fight regulation, of course, and all the operational rigour it seeks to impose.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

HSBC Still Doesn't Get It

You would not expect a conglomerate under heavy regulatory fire to use its latest results announcement to campaign against regulation. But that's HSBC for you.

Yesterday, the CEO complained that the group now spends $800m a year on 'compliance and risk programme', an increase of $200m, with more to come next year. In other words, even after years of scandals and massive fines, HSBC remains under-invested in compliance and risk controls.

Even more alarmingly, the Chairman says that such resources would otherwise be spent on customer-facing staff, who he says are becoming too risk-averse. But that's exactly what regulators, customers and taxpayers are afraid of - the biggest banking group in Europe spending an extra $200m a year selling toxic crap without adequate controls over an aggressive salesforce. 

Bizarrely, HSBC's Chairman is also pushing for the ring-fencing of the retail bank to be deferred at the very same time as a major Portuguese bank goes under.

Not a great attitude to regulation from the leadership of a bank that has 3 years to go under the deferred prosecution agreement it signed with US authorities for money laundering and sanction breaches - ending HSBC's involvement in $100bn worth of businesses. That's in addition to claims for market rigging, mis-selling PPI and interest rate swaps, not to mention it's starring role in the 'Magic of Madoff'

I can't imagine that Res Publica's Virtuous Banking report went down terribly well at HSBC HQ.

At any rate, with revenues already down 9% and pre-tax profits down 12%, in the year to June, you can expect a lot more bad news from these bozos. 

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