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RBS denials over small business unit 'don't bear scrutiny'

RBS denials over small business unit 'don't bear scrutiny'

The man who reviewed Royal Bank of Scotland's treatment of small businesses has said he is disappointed by the bank's response to his findings.

Tony Boorman, managing director of Promontory Financial Group, was appointed by the Financial Conduct Authority to carry out a skilled person report into claims RBS had artificially distressed otherwise viable businesses.

Mr Boorman, a former deputy chief ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service, appeared before the Treasury select committee this morning (30 January) and said the bank focused on its commercial interests at the expense of helping businesses that found themselves in financial difficulty.

But RBS denied several of the allegations that it made things worse for businesses so it could profit from this.

Mr Boorman said: "I share with the FCA some disappointment that RBS has not accepted the findings of our report. We approached this carefully and professionally and with some caution. These were not findings we made lightly.

"If you look at some of the arguments they have put forward you will see they don't bear much scrutiny.

"They draw attention to the fact that in some of the cases the fees were not levied or calculated but if I say to you I am going to quadruple your fees tomorrow, you may take a whole series of steps. Whether you do it or not is not the point.

"Threatening violence is nearly as serious as carrying it out."

Mr Boorman's review was completed in 2016 and found that while RBS did not set out to artificially engineer the transfer of companies to its business support division, there were "isolated examples" of poor practice. 

These include the failure to support SME businesses "in a manner consistent with good turnaround practice" and focusing too much on pricing increases and debt reduction "without due consideration to the longer-term viability of customers".

Asked whether his findings might be symptomatic of something wider in the banking industry, Mr Boorman declined to comment, saying he had not been asked to look into this issue.

But he added: "We did draw attention to the particularly vulnerable circumstances of SME customers and the need for thoughtful and careful controls around how the banks exercise discretion.

"I am sure and I am hopeful that all the institutions have thought about some of those recommendations post these events and sharpened up their own practices."

Earlier this month the FCA responded to the RBS case by publishing plans to allow SMEs to lodge complaints about financial services companies free of charge and pursue redress of up to £150,000 without resorting to the courts.

damian.fantato@ft.com

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