Habib Bank Expelled From New York

9 09 2017

The case of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which had fairy tale beginnings and patronage from the ruler of Dubai, is an historic example of a global private Pakistani bank that was shut down because of large-scale financial crime and money laundering. BCCI gave other lenders “bad vibes” and quickly acquired the nickname “the bank of Crooks and Criminals”. The closure of BCCI gave rise to the most costly and extravagant litigation in a generation. Indeed, as the late Lord Bingham discerned, investigating BCCI’s global malpractice “if a possible task, is one which would take many years to carry out”. Now the story seems to be repeating itself with Habib Bank – Pakistan’s largest bank headquartered in Karachi with $24bn worth of balance sheet assets and $1bn in annual revenue – which has been fined $225m because its New York branch failed to comply with New York laws and regulations designed to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial transactions. Compliance failures were said to have “opened the door” to financing Saudi sponsored terrorism. Transactions were “batch waived” and management was unable to explain their actions. The news comes just days after the announcement that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) is seeking to enforce a civil monetary penalty of $629.625m on the bank. These enforcement actions by the DFS are a grim reminder of the poor culture plaguing banks and misconduct besetting financial institutions. DFS said it would not let the bank “sneak out” of the US without due accountability. In terms of culpability, the failures can be classified as “corporate integrity-related regulatory breach” and/or “imputed breach” events.

Because of significant weaknesses in the its risk management capabilities, the branch received the lowest possible rating of “5” in the latest compliance assessment conducted in 2016. The case for using conduct costs as a framework for analysing in the banking sector in Pakistan has already been articulated on this blog. If anything, the fines imposed by DFS certainly make Habib Bank the foremost – i.e. number “1” –financial institution for poor conduct in Pakistan itself. But of course it is equally true that Habib Bank’s delinquencies are surpassed by the toxic level of failings connected to the £264bn in conduct costs incurred by the world’s foremost international banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, HSBC and so forth. As Lord King aptly puts it a decade after the global financial crisis: “Very smart people thought it was fun and completely acceptable to exploit less smart people.” The scale of poor conduct in the New York branch, which processed banking transactions worth a total of $287bn in 2015, raises serious questions about the state of affairs in the banking sector in Pakistan itself where corruption is widespread and regulation is diluted in comparison to the West. Read the rest of this entry »

Narratives of Misconduct: Emerging Trends in the Finance Sector

26 11 2015

As seen on this blog, the spectre of misconduct hangs over the finance sector. Even after seven painful years of conduct related revelations, the fall out from the global financial crisis (GFC) continues to haunt consumers and banking institutions alike. To conceal the low-point in public confidence, empty rhetoric and hollow buzzwords such as “social licence” and “real markets” reign supreme while regulatory spin seeks to reconstruct the common person’s trust in the system. Equally, to make themselves palatable to the public, market pundits can be heard trumpeting the mantra of “inclusive capitalism”. Yet an overall lack of ethics permeates corporate culture and a continuing tendency to act in a twisted way can still be gleaned from events. If anything, the deficit in trust is increasing because resort to outright cheating can still be evinced in numerous instances. For example, along with Deutsche Bank, Barclays is in the spotlight yet again after paying £320 million in forex manipulation fines to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) earlier this May; today, it has been fined £72 million by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for poor handling of financial crime risks. Equally, The Review into the failure of HBOS Group highlights the legacy of negligence in holding the finance sector to account. In addition to everyday outrage arising out of economic inequality, public anger in the finance sector has risen to a crescendo because the nadir of people’s sufferings has been reached. As the National Audit Office finds, state funds totalling £1,162 billion have been injected into the UK banking system to save it from collapse.

The paradox, of course, is that unlimited funds have been made available to rescue recklessly managed and overexposed banks – concerned less with integrity and more with ways to exploit token regulation – whereas the neediest in society are being shunned from basic necessities such as healthcare, care services, welfare and all the savage cuts that accompany the long-term goal of shrinking the state to 36% of GDP. Even to those who earnestly believe in the free market, official viewpoints and narratives often directly contradict reality. Most of all, officials fail to acknowledge wholesale abdication of duties owed to citizens and their attitude exposes a continuing tendency to overlook capitalism’s corruption. In the roundup below, among other things, further light is shed on developments trending in the bullring of financial misconduct and the theoretical jargon used by regulators is paired up with a cogent critique – by O’Brien, Gilligan, Roberts and McCormick – of the trickle down reforms enacted to positively anchor the finance sector to society’s needs. Read the rest of this entry »

The Senior Managers Regime

12 09 2015

Tom Hayes did not bring down a bank but he paid a heavy price for being a part of the wider dirty casino culture built into the world of finance. During his trial, important questions were thrown up about the degree to which his seniors were culpable in his actions. In applauding the Senior Managers Regime (SMR), which aims to fill the lacuna in the regulatory regime, it has already been argued that Sir Jeremy Cooke was right to say that those supervising Hayes were irrelevant to his crimes: they would, after all, raise the stale decades old “we didn’t know” defence. But this historical rebuttal has been stretched to its outer limits: too overworked and overloaded, it has crowded itself out. As Roger McCormick explained in a recent interview referring to the famous Swaps Case from the 1980s: “Patience has run out and it’s no longer acceptable for them to just say, ‘It’s not our fault, we didn’t know.’ Laws of this kind reflect that impatience. We’ve had enough of this. We can’t have big, unruly banks that are out of control with no one at the top really accepting responsibility for what’s going on.” We must not lose sight of the fact that a divergence of views exists in this field. Senior lawyers and academics do not necessarily see eye to eye on everything that the regulators say.

Some unknown authors in the media argue that: “The LIBOR conviction is welcome. Now directors must be held accountable too.” It is said that the trial “was a landmark moment in the cleanup of the City after the financial crisis.” Mark Carney pledged that the SMR will in principle apply to him and the Bank of England but the bank is uneasy about opening up to official auditors for fear that such proposals may reduce its autonomy. George Osborne has been, as of July, consulting in relation to a Bank of England Bill targeting accountability and transparency at Threadneedle Street. The bank is “uneasy” and “surprised” by thoughts of being swept within the audit powers of the National Audit Office outside whose scrutiny it has historically been. As regards future prospects of independence, the bank is not satisfied with the limited comfort offered by the retention of its policy making functions and potentially keeping them outside the scope of the National Audit Office’s oversight. Read the rest of this entry »

Hunter into Prey: City Watchdog Exposes its Achilles’ Heel – Part 2

6 07 2015

HeelThe issues in the last post must be examined in light of the scandal which erupted in late 2014 when the FCA came under heavy fire from the Davis Report because of the highly irresponsible way in which it had leaked sensitive data to the media earlier in March that year. Simon Davis, a partner in the Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance, stressed that there had been nothing less than systemic failure. Davis was adamant that the FCA failed to address the issue of whether the information given out might be price sensitive. The conclusion was unsurprising because the leak culminated in an article in the Telegraph headlined Savers locked into ‘rip-off’ pensions and investments may be free to exit, regulators will say which claimed that the regulator was planning an investigation of 30 million pension policies, some sold as far back as the 1970s. Consequently, big insurance companies had billions wiped off their share prices. The misapprehension that selected annuity products would be picked out meant that major UK insurers saw their share prices plummet. The insurers called for Wheatley’s resignation. Even the Chancellor George Osborne bemoaned he was “profoundly concerned” by the episode. In his inquiry, Davis unearthed multiple failures symbolic of a dysfunctional organisation, and he emphasised that the regulator was “high-risk, poorly supervised and inadequately controlled.”

Davis – who was unsparing in his criticism – held the FCA’s Board responsible for the flaws in the regulator’s controls on the identification, control and release of price sensitive information. The buck ultimately stopped with the board because it “failed in its oversight of the FCA’s executive and … failed to identify the risks inherent in the FCA’s communications strategy.” The episode required urgent action and an external organisation needed to review the board’s practices and effectiveness. So serious were the mechanical failures of corporate governance of the City watchdog. To scotch the confusion, in light of public hearings that ensued, on 17 March 2015 the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee (the Treasury Committee) published Thirteenth Report (2014-2015): Press briefing of information in the Financial Conduct Authority’s 2014/15 Business Plan (HC881). Read the rest of this entry »