It's time to sharpen powers that tame rogue bankers - Greg Wright

FOR decades, bankers were regarded as pillars of society who acted with prudence and probity under fire.

Leading figures in financial services must listen to victims of financial misconduct, says Greg Wright Picture: PA

Like Captain Mainwaring, the fictional wartime bank manager from Walmington-on-Sea, they were thought to be a conservative, patriotic breed who would never play fast and loose with your financial affairs.

How times have changed. The events of the last decade have shattered the relationship of trust between the British consumer and many of the banks.

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When misconduct has occurred, the needs of the victims have frequently been overlooked. Justice has been delayed and denied.

Some of the victims of the scandal at HBOS Reading are facing hardship more than a decade and a half after the frauds took place, according to the SME Alliance.

Six people, two of them former employees of HBOS, were convicted and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for criminal misconduct between 2003 and 2007 at HBOS Reading.

An independent report into a scheme to compensate customers caught up in the multi-million pound scam at the HBOS branch found that it had “serious shortcomings”.

Sir Ross Cranston, a law professor at the London School of Economics, said that Lloyds, which took over HBOS in 2008, must go back to the drawing board and re-assess customers’ compensation claims.

Sir Ross’s independent report assessed the customer review, overseen by Professor Russel Griggs OBE, which the Lloyds Banking Group had set up to compensate victims of the HBOS Reading fraud.

Lloyds Banking Group has accepted his main finding that “the methodology and process of the customer review did not achieve the purpose of delivering fair and reasonable offers of compensation”.

Sir Ross’s review has concluded that while distress and inconvenience compensation was “generous, and beyond what a customer could hope to have been awarded under that head of loss by a court”, the review did not achieve its objective of giving all customers the confidence that they had received fair and reasonable outcomes in respect of the assessment of direct and consequential losses.

Lloyds Banking Group has said it will be guided by the victims, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking, the SME Alliance and other stakeholders on how best to implement Sir Ross’s recommendation for a re-review, including how it is undertaken and which independent expert or experts should be appointed to lead it.

The statement added: “We will provide our full support to ensure Sir Ross’s recommendations are delivered in full and transparently so that customers can have confidence that fair outcomes have been achieved.”

The bank is right to listen to the victims. The SME Alliance, has called on Lloyds Banking Group to immediately offer fair compensation for all HBOS Reading victims.

There is no time for foot-dragging.

Nikki Turner of the SME Alliance said: “ Victims are suffering real hardship, many lost their businesses, homes and – in some cases – families. They need fair restitution now.

“The bank also needs to open up the compensation process to those it has refused to help, and to those who may have opted out because of what Sir Ross describes as the ‘opacity’ of the scheme. This all needs to be actioned rapidly, fairly and transparently.”

Sir Ross’s report is a vindication of the SME Alliance, the APPG for Fair Business Banking and many HBOS victims who claimed that the Griggs review was fundamentally flawed.

But more needs to be done. The Yorkshire Post has long called for tougher regulations and sanctions against rogue bankers. The banks must not be allowed to mark their own homework. Internal redress schemes are simply not good enough.

There are hopes that a new Business Banking Resolution Service may provide a speedy route to justice. In any event, the new Government can show that it puts customers first by sharpening the powers of regulators so they can throw the book at errant bankers.

Scandals like HBOS Reading serve as a warning from history.