HBOS report next week: Cross fingers for justice, but don’t hold your breath

 

Looking back I discover it is almost exactly a year ago that I wrote that the extremely tardy official report into the collapse of HBOS would be published “early in the New Year.”

The New Year came and went with silence from the Financial Conduct Authority. Now we know the report will be out on November 19. We have waited so long for it, that we hope it will be hard hitting and name names, but we have been disappointed before (see my last blog on the feeble Competition Authority report on retail banking.)

More than 40,000 bank employees have lost their jobs

January will mark seven years since Lloyds completed its disastrous takeover of the failed bank, necessitating its own rescue by the Government. More than 40,000 bank employees have lost their jobs since then. Millions of small shareholders have lost most of their investment. Taxpayers have lost billions.

Lloyds has almost completed the job of rehabilitating itself – having had to write off losses of £54 billion, shell out £12 billion in PPI compensation and sell off its TSB branches. There is more pain to come with court action by disgruntled shareholders, but the Government has been able to unload some of its stake at a slight profit and the track towards returning to 100% private ownership seems clear.

So why should we now worry about an official report about ancient history? After all, we know why HBOS went bust – that was detailed in my book and forensically dissected by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

what is the value of bank regulation if it can’t prevent  mistreatment of customers or disastrous lending practices

There are two main reasons: Firstly, the failure of the regulator (then the Financial Services Authority) to spot what was going wrong until after the event. This despite numerous warnings and several investigations. We are entitled to ask what is the value of bank regulation if it can’t prevent either the mistreatment of customers by selling them useless PPI policies, or disastrous lending practices which caused gigantic financial and economic losses.

Secondly, why the main architects of the reckless HBOS strategy of sales at all costs have been allowed to get off scott-free?

The only person named and shamed for the HBOS wreck was Peter Cummings, former head of corporate banking, who was fined £500,000 and banned from the finance industry, but he was not the top man. Neither the executive chairman, Lord Stevenson, nor the chief executive Andy Hornby, were sanctioned.

Stevenson was even permitted to be an “authorised person” as director of another financial firm, as was Mike Ellis, the finance director, who is chair of the Skipton Building Society. Hornby became chief executive of the gambling firm Coral, which is perhaps appropriate.

why have the main architects of reckless HBOS sales strategy been allowed to get off scott-free?

The report will be published with an analysis by Andrew Green QC of the fines and penalties levied by the FSA. At the time of the Cummings verdict the regulator said it had concluded its enforcement action – interpreted by others in the HBOS top management as a signal that no action would be taken against them – in effect an immunity.

If that is allowed to stand it will be massively unfair to those who lost their jobs, their savings or their tax payments dealing with the HBOS fallout. We can hope for justice – but don’t hold your breath.