RBS admits it let small business customers down

Jon Pain

Royal Bank of Scotland has admitted that its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) let down some of its small and medium enterprise (SME) business customers and “should have done better” following allegations that the GRG profited from deliberately causing the failure of thousands of businesses during and after the financial crisis.

Jon Pain, RBS chief conduct & regulatory affairs officer, said the GRG’s role was to protect the bank’s position during the crisis, where possible by working with distressed businesses to return them to financial health.

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis we did not always meet our own high standards and we let some of our SME customers down,” said Pain.

“We have already acknowledged that, in some areas, we could, and should, have done better for SME customers.

“Specifically, we could have managed the transition to GRG better and we could have better explained to customers any changes to the prices or fees we were charging.

“We also did not always handle customer complaints well.

“As a result, a number of our customers did not receive the level of service they should have done or, importantly, that they would receive now.”

Pain claimed it was important to remember the context of the time and the impact of the financial crisis.

He said in 2008, there was an unprecedented increase in SMEs falling into financial distress and the numbers moving into GRG increased by over 400%.

“We should have coped better but, nevertheless, between 2011-2013, GRG advanced over £100 million of new lending to SMEs and successfully restructured thousands of SMEs.

“In doing so it safeguarded tens of thousands of jobs.

“These were incredibly difficult times for the bank and the wider economy.

“Between 2008 – 2013, RBS lost more than £2 billion from lending to SME customers.

“The bank itself was in a precarious position and required extensive government support.”

He added: “Despite a number of investigations that involved a detailed review of all the evidence, including reviewing millions of pages of documents, we have seen nothing to support the allegations that the bank artificially distressed otherwise viable SME businesses or deliberately caused them to fail.

“In regard to the wider allegations raised, we have found no evidence that the bank either inappropriately targeted such businesses to transfer them to GRG or drove them to insolvency.

“Nor did it buy their assets at a lower than market price.

“The FCA review of the treatment of SME customers in GRG remains ongoing.

“It would not be appropriate to comment further on that review until the FCA has published its conclusions.”