RBS defends business lending practices

rbs RBS says it is already committed to an investigation into customer treatment

Royal Bank of Scotland has defended its lending practices, saying it has kept thousands of businesses alive.

A damning report by a government adviser this week shook the bank saying it took advantage of ailing companies, seizing assets at a knockdown price.

RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton told the BBC he wants the firm of City lawyers, Clifford Chance, to get to the bottom of the allegations.

Any evidence of wrongdoing will go to the Serious Fraud Office.

Sir Philip said in a BBC interview it was difficult to strike the right balance all the time: "We will, almost certainly, have been too heavy with some customers from time to time. And we will, almost certainly, have been too lax with customers from time to time, given that we have dealt with many, many thousands of business in distress in recent years.

"I am certain that we will have got it wrong in both directions because there are so many people that we have had to deal with in deep distress."

Profit

Business Secretary Vince Cable has already referred the report to City regulators, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority,

The report, by Lawrence Tomlinson, the "Entrepreneur in residence at Mr Cable's department, claimed RBS put some "good and viable" businesses into default for profit.

The allegations centre on RBS's Global Restructuring Group (GRG) lending division, which specialises in handling loans seen as being more risky.

The Tomlinson report says that putting a business into the GRG generated revenue for the bank through fees, increased profit margins and the purchase of devalued assets by their property division, West Register.

Independent

The practice of removing a bad debt from a bank's books is not an unreasonable one, particularly as major lenders have been trying to move away from riskier assets.

But Mr Tomlinson told the BBC that there was a perception among small businesses that they are being "purposefully distressed" in order to get them into the GRG which, even if wrong, should be addressed by RBS.

Mr Tomlinson acted independently of government in producing the report, and did not set out to look solely at RBS, which is 81% owned by the government.

But he said what he had uncovered through talking to businesses had put RBS and its GRG division into focus.

Clifford Chance's review will report by 31 January and will look at specific allegations, as well as banking culture in general.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said earlier this week that the allegations were "deeply troubling and extremely serious" and ought to be pursued "to the fullest extent of the law".

RBS said it would co-operate with the investigations.

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