Greg Wright: Regulators need to display a dash of steel to bring rogue bankers to justice

Kevin Hollinrake MP  is a tireless campaigner on behalf of small business owners who have been bullied by the banks.
Kevin Hollinrake MP is a tireless campaigner on behalf of small business owners who have been bullied by the banks.
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YOU spend every waking hour building up a business, only to see it destroyed by unscrupulous bankers who believe they are above the law.

And what are your options for bringing these rogue bankers to justice? At the moment, they are limited, unless you have access to a vast money pit.

MPs, regulators and business groups all agree that SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with legitimate grievances against the banks do not have a fast, inexpensive route to justice

Many of Britain’s big banks have been rocked by scandals ranging from the manipulation of foreign exchanges to the mis-selling of complex interest-rate hedging products.

This was embarrassing for the banks and a living hell for victims who had placed their trust in them.

Hopes had been raised that a new Business Banking Resolution Service would provide justice for bosses who lost everything after being mistreated by the banks. The new dispute resolution service is being established for small and medium sized business owners who have unresolved complaints with the participating banks.

The BBRS is being established in accordance with a “voluntary commitment” made by the banking and finance industry in response to a review carried out by Simon Walker into the small business complaints landscape.

Many campaigners had hoped the review would back plans for a new, tough tribunal that would tackle cases of banking misconduct.

However, Mr Walker, the review’s chairman, told MPs that the tribunal would be costly, because it involves lawyers, and would take years to legislate because Parliament would be busy with Brexit.

Despite this, a diverse range of stakeholders have provided advice to the BBRS and Kevin Hollinrake, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking (APPG), remains confident that it will be a “ground breaking” scheme.

However, a letter sent by Mr Hollinrake, who is a tireless campaigner on behalf of business people who have been bullied by the banks, must make us question whether the new resolution service will place the needs of all the victims first.

In a letter to Lewis Shand Smith, the chairman of the Business Banking Resolution Service Implementation Steering Group, Mr Hollinrake said: “It would be a fundamental error to exclude complainants that have clear grounds to believe that they have been the victim of a terrible injustice.

“Indeed it would risk undermining a principle premise of the scheme, the restoration of trust between SMEs and banks.”

Mr Hollinrake has legitimate grounds for concern. A whopping 85 per cent of cases brought to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking will be excluded from accessing the BBRS, according to Mr Hollinrake.

Those excluded include cases that have been subjected to an IRHP (interest rate hedging product) review and all cases with non-participating organisations, such as Cerberus.

Nobody is suggesting that every historic case of alleged misconduct should be re-opened. But many SME owners who were mis-sold IRHP products still believe they have been denied justice.

The BBRS must take Mr Hollinrake’s advice and establish a small team to look at historic complaints that were handled in a shoddy manner.

The team should, for example, consider evidence that was overlooked by a previous review or an unreasonable exclusion. Failure to tackle these concerns will add to a growing sense of anger and despair.

Julia Barrington Fuller, a leading campaigner on behalf of victims of banking misconduct, said on Twitter: “It’s strange really. Us bank victims are directing our anger at the banks but it’s our government and regulators that have let us down. If they had done their job in protecting people and their businesses our economy would be flourishing.”

Small business owners are tired of being betrayed by our timid regulatory system. A dash of steel is sometimes needed to bring the banks to heel.