Banking and Misconduct: A Critique of the Cure of Culture

28 03 2018

Strangely enough, after controversially abandoning a long-awaited revolutionary review of culture in banking, the FCA has started to invoke the mantra of culture yet again. In that regard, Transforming culture in financial services DP18/2 advocates a pressing need for financial firms to clean up their act because cultural complications have been “a key root cause of the major conduct failings that have occurred within the industry in recent history.” Being prescriptive about the panacea of culture is quite an odd thing for the FCA to indulge in yet again. Worse still, the idea that a wider culture is to blame makes a mockery of individual culpability and provokes irresponsibility. The approach is misconceived and fundamentally flawed. Jonathan Davidson, the FCA’s director of supervision, predicts at the outset of the discussion paper that organisational and societal change cannot be brought about by a “quick fix” because of “the complexity of human dynamics.” Events demonstrate that the FCA is in denial about the reality of things. Blaming bad culture has failed as a defence for many people such as Tom Hayes, Jonathan Mathew, Jay Merchant and Alex Pabon who were prosecuted and jailed for benchmark rigging. The FCA’s latest theory is that culture is manageable despite being immeasurable. On any view, this is a fallacious argument because the calculus of culture is not only measurable but has already been clearly recorded as conduct costs, £264 billion between 2012-2016, by the CCP Research Foundation. The systematic arrangement and coding of these costs shows that bad culture and culpability can be readily measured.

Generally, one can only agree with the practical effect of many a cultural mission statement, when everyday conduct, ethics and accountability are what will truly drive good outcomes for customers and engender trust. No issue is taken here on the good work many of the banks are doing in this space. The conduct costs research was never intended to be a means by which to bluntly expose a bank’s conduct costs. Rather, it was to identify a proxy indicator of culture. CCP Research Foundation readily accepts the limitations of this metric. It would further accept that there are many initiatives, controls and/or mitigants that, if properly implemented, would act to promote good behaviour and outcomes for customers; as opposed to shining a light on misconduct post facto. The indirect effect of the capture (and publication) of a firm’s (and/or its peer’s) conduct costs on behaviour is clearly subordinate to such a priori measures. Aside from the lack of guidance and substantive discussion on how to effectively measure and manage common grey area conduct risk, the fact that the regulator is highlighting the culture issue again must, on its face, be applauded. Importantly, any criticisms voiced in this post are my personal views alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Court of Appeal Opens the Door to LIBOR and Benchmark Misrepresentation Claims

21 03 2018

Property Alliance Group Ltd v The Royal Bank of Scotland Plc [2018] EWCA Civ 355 (02 March 2018)

Infamously, the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) used to be a code word for corruption in the world of finance. In more ways than one, it is still a dirty word from the point of view of ethics. However, even now, despite planning to phase it out by 2021 and replacing it with a proxy, the FCA calls LIBOR a “systemically important benchmark”. Property Alliance Group (PAG) appealed Asplin J’s decision to dismiss its claims against the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) arising out of interest rate swap agreements. RBS advanced funds to PAG at interest rates referenced to LIBOR, which was published relying upon submissions from panels of banks on borrowing rates. These proceedings arose out of four swaps that RBS sold to PAG between 2004 and the spring of 2008. The first swap had a trade date of 6 October 2004 and a notional amount of £10 million. The second swap had a trade date of 25 September 2007 and a notional amount of £15 million for 4 years and then £30 million for a further six years. The third swap had a trade date of 14 January 2008 and a notional amount of £20 million. The fourth swap had a trade date of 16 April 2008 and a notional amount of £15 million. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 trigged a fall in interest rates. All the swaps were tied to 3 month GBP LIBOR which plummeted and stayed low. The upshot was that the rates of interest that PAG was paying under the swaps far exceeded what it was receiving under them.

One consequence of the prolonged period of unusually low interest rates was that the swaps had a very large negative market-to-market value (MTM) from PAG’s point of view. The break cost incurred by PAG in 2011 was correspondingly substantial. PAG issued proceedings in 2013 seeking relief by way of rescission of the swaps and/or damages. The claims were divided into three categories: “the swaps claims”, which involved allegations of misrepresentation, misstatement and breach of contract on the part of RBS in connection with its proposal and sale of the swaps to PAG; “the LIBOR claims” which rested on RBS’s knowledge of and participation in manipulation of LIBOR rates; and “the GRG claims” by which PAG complained of breaches of contract arising out of its transfer to, and subsequent management within the controversial Global Restructuring Group to which RBS transferred its relationship with PAG in 2010. Asplin J dismissed the claims in their entirety. However, despite dismissing the onward appeal, light of the circumstances Sir Terence Etherton MR, Longmore and Newey LJJ were satisfied that RBS did make some representation to the effect that RBS itself was not manipulating and did not intend to manipulate LIBOR. Read the rest of this entry »

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 a 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 »

Catalyst for Change: Towards a Model of Conduct Costs in Pakistan

24 04 2016

Reposted from the Conduct Costs Pakistan Blog which I have recently started. As measured by the CCP Research Foundation, in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers seven years ago, global “conduct costs” are approaching stratospheric levels and are presently estimated to be $300 billion. But none of the data reflected in the final sum can be traced to Pakistan – a market economy whose legal system closely resembles the English legal system, despite the politically retrograde Islamisation of the 1980s – in clear and unambiguous terms. This blog is written with the ambition of articulating a conduct costs’ model in Pakistan, a developing country which is in need of such analysis so that its 192 million people are put in a position to make informed choices about banking and financial services.

In constitutional terms, a sound basis for the study of conduct costs can be found in Articles 37 and 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973. Laid down in Part II: Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy, Chapter 2: Principles of Policy of the Constitution, Article 37 requires the state to promote social justice and Article 38 imposes on the state a duty to promote the people’s social and economic well-being. On an alternative level, in The End of Alchemy, Professor Mervyn King relies on all his experience as a central banker to explain the wider dynamics of the global economy. He invites us to embrace the underlying theoretical argument that banks are “the Achilles heel of capitalism”. This attractive proposition is as advantageous a place to begin a study of the banks in Pakistan as it is in the west. Read the rest of this entry »

Benchmark Manipulation and Corporate Crime: Insights on Financial Misconduct

22 03 2016

In the second innings things were different. The reverse swinging old ball meant that the Serious Fraud Office’s openers came back to the pavilion with a duck and those charged with misconduct and put in the dock began to eye up the opportunity of scoring a hat trick. Coupled with the reduction in Hayes’s sentence by the Court of Appeal (Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ, see here) on the ground that he was not in a managerial position and suffered from autism, the fact that Darrell Read, Danny Wilkinson and Colin Goodman, Noel Cryan, Jim Gilmour and Terry Farr were found not guilty of LIBOR manipulation casts doubt over future successful prosecutions in benchmark rigging cases. Hamblen J directed the jury to convict the brokers if they had played a “significant” role in helping him rig LIBOR. Apparently they had not. The Court of Appeal’s refusal to grant Hayes permission to appeal to the Supreme Court may provide limited comfort to the SFO but the acquittal of the above brokers charged in the second “sham” LIBOR trial has reversed the momentum gained by the authorities. The brokers’ exoneration exposes the SFO to the accusation that it has been wildly swinging a sledgehammer to smash a nut. So, having tasted blood after Tom Hayes’s conviction, taking a gung-ho approach to weeding out the City’s “bad apples” seems to have backfired because the clever brokers had simply let Hayes believe whatever he wanted.

According to the brokers, the SFO “didn’t investigate it properly and didn’t listen”. Despite big increases to its funding, claims that the SFO’s director David Green QC has overseen a “string of successes” and that the extension of his contract for two years is a “boon” for justice are proving to be totally without merit. These days it is the SFO which is in the dock and Tom Hayes’s tormented father Nick Hayes used the opportunity to defend his son and said: “Today Tom Hayes stands tall. He refused to testify versus the LIBOR brokers and paid the price … I’m proud of him.” Of course, measured against such poor performance, the fact that the embattled agency wants a top-up of £21.5 million in emergency funds for “blockbuster” probes to bolster its dwindling fortunes amounts to expecting rewards for failure; it is completely unjustified. Read the rest of this entry »

SFO v Standard Bank: First UK Deferred Prosecution Agreement

7 12 2015

The director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), David Green QC, has overseen a turnaround in the ailing agency’s fortunes. Green is reportedly paid £175,000 annually and the press suggests he is likely to continue his role for another two years after his four-year term expires in April 2016. With successes such as the conviction of benchmark fraudster Tom Hayes (presently jailed in Lowdham Grange Prison) already under his belt, Green has his sights set on securing further convictions in other ongoing benchmark prosecutions. In Hayes’s appeal, Sir John Thomas LCJ has directed that a medical report should be filed by 9 December 2015. Hayes argued the Nuremberg defence and said that he was merely following orders. But he failed miserably in winning the jury’s sympathy and is a broken man. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but that did not stop Sir Jeremy Cooke from sentencing him to 14 years’ imprisonment for his fraudulent ways. Of course, only recently the SFO also secured the UK’s first deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). In SFO v Standard Bank Plc, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brain Leveson approved the UK’s first DPA in a bribery case connected to a £397/$600 million sovereign note deal involving Tanzania.

Two things stand out about this case. It is the first example of a UK prosecutor entering into a DPA or a “plea deal”. Moreover, the situation was equally novel because it was the very first time that the offence of failing to prevent bribery – under section 7 of the Bribery Act – was used since its introduction in 2010. The government considers DPAs as a new and important enforcement tool to deal with corporate economic crime. DPAs came into existence in the UK by virtue of section 45 and schedule 17 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The present case turned on the Tanzanian government’s wish to raise funds by way of a sovereign note private placement. The bribe took place when, in March 2013, Standard Bank’s former sister firm Stanbic Bank Tanzania paid £4/$6 million to Enterprise Growth Market Advisers (EGMA). The SFO contended that the improper payment’s purpose was to induce a representative of the Tanzanian government to favour Standard Bank and Stanbic’s proposal for the sovereign note deal. Stanbic and Standard Bank shared the transaction fees of £5.6/$8.4 million that were generated by the placement. Read the rest of this entry »

European Supervisory Authorities on Risk in EU Financial Systems

27 09 2014

The bi-annual report of the Joint Committee (JC) of the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) – i.e. the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) – has identified a number of risks to financial stability in the EU. These risks include uncertainties in global emerging market economies, an intensified search for yield in a protracted low interest rate environment, prolonged weak economic growth in an environment marked by high indebtedness and the risks related to conduct of business and Information Technologies (IT). Subsequent to the last report in spring 2014, the instant report focuses on the delicate economic recovery within the EU that can be observed in weak balance sheets both in private and public spheres. Presently favourable market conditions may conceal shortcomings in a weak economic environment and the ESAs consider high indebtedness and low private sector credit growth to be particularly testing and they place emphasis on continued structural reforms that drive improvements in competitiveness and revive lending.

On the one hand, the report explains that ongoing asset quality reviews and stress tests in the banking and insurance sector will present a clearer picture of asset quality and help improve the reliability of balance sheets of EU financial institutions. However, on the other hand, the report emphasises that ongoing balance sheet repair and debt restructuring should remain a key priority in moving forward. Read the rest of this entry »