British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Posts Tagged ‘banking crisis

Have the bank directors failed in their fiduciary duties?

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Whilst doing my rounds today, I came across this article which points out that all directors have a legal duty of care or, if you prefer, a fiduciary duty. The author then asks why it is, that bank directors have been allowed to resign, rather than be sacked, given the government are suggesting that these bank directors have failed? It is a compelling argument.

Theoretically at least, if any director failed in their fiduciary duty, acted recklessly or without due care then, not only could they be sacked, but they could find themselves liable to a civil action. That notwithstanding, it is clear to me, that if ‘trust and confidence’ is an integral part of a fiduciary’s duty, then there has been a failure.

I cannot argue with the sentiment, so lets be clear, one government minister after the other has been heard to repeat the term used by Gordon Brown, that there must be “no reward for failure“.  Similarly, there must be no amnesty for anyone that has failed in their fiduciary duty or that has acted recklessly or without due care.  The author goes on to say;

These individuals have either failed or they have not, ministers must be careful in making damning statements, yet failing to back them up with appropriate action.

Surely government ministers understand that if they are going to step up the rhetoric, then they need to follow these statements with firm action? Anything less would be unacceptable to the general public who are now massive stakeholders in these banks. Moreover, if I were a former bank director, I would welcome the opportunity to clear my name, assuming of course, that I had a defence to the charge.  The article is pretty well summed up as follows;

I am not qualified legally or otherwise to determine whether or not any individual director has failed in their fiduciary duty. Therefore I am not suggesting anyone (bankers or otherwise) has acted improperly, I am relying only on the governments own words, that there should be no reward for failure, which implies that there has indeed been a failure. However, in the “court of public opinion” I would like to state for the record, that I believe there is merit, perhaps even a duty, for the government to seek legal advice on this matter, because they, as a majority shareholder in these banks, have their own fiduciary duty to the shareholders, you and me!

I agree! So lets see some action from government ministers instead of hot air.

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Bank auditors should also be held responsible

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I find it difficult to disagree with anything stated in this article from Power to the People, which I have reproduced in case anyone has missed it. The reality is, auditors do have a major responsibility to shareholder’s, who rely on their reports being objective and searching, surely the auditors can’t claim that they cannot he held liable for the fact that they have missed completely or failed to understand the risks involved with the strategy employed by some banking and financial institutions. I feel sure some ‘auditor’ will come in at some stage, in defence of his profession and I look forward to the response, assuming he or she is not too busy dealing with company administrations and liquidations!

At the moment one day pretty much blends into another, but on one of the evening news programmes this week, another fat cat, fee-earner had the temerity to say, when questioned, that auditors had played no part in the financial mire that is the bane of every UK taxpayer. I have to admit, that I wanted to throw something at him, because I have been arguing for weeks that the auditors have failed in their duty to the shareholders and worst still, shall be one of the few ’industries’ that will make money out of this fiasco, through company administrations, receivership’s, consultancy fees and so on.

Lets look at the generally accepted definition of a Finance Audit:
The process of verifying a company’s financial information. Auditors are certified public accountants who are independent of the corporation. An auditor examines a company’s accounting books and records in order to determine whether the company is following appropriate account procedures. An auditor issues an opinion in a report that says whether the financial statements present fairly the company’s financial position and its operational results in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

And here is a common definition of an Auditor
Auditor is the person appointed to conduct an examination of the records, to form an opinion about the authenticity and correctness of such records, by verifying the correctness and reliability of the recorded transactions from the evidences available, opinion and inference reachable based on his expertise.

Most, if not all, stock market listed companies in this country and, for that matter, around the world, use the services of one of the so called ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms. These big firms charge huge sums for their audits, often running into £millions, and the audit teams are lead by high ranking ‘fee earners’. In other words, as the businesses, banks and financial institutions they audited expanded, so have the fees earned by the auditors and yet, not one audit firm appears to have asked any questions about what is now being described as “questionable accounting” practices within the financial services and banking sectors.

For example, do we know of any audit firm that qualified a set of accounts within the banking sector because of the heavy reliance on a particular financial model, such as in the case of Northern Rock? Has an audit firm raised any prior concern over the way that ‘bundled’ mortgage debt was traded, sold and then re-sold, with each party taking a profit or commission, without really knowing the risks or true value of the asset.

You would think that after Enron and Worldcom, auditors would be even more cautious, especially given investors and business people alike, will have increasingly come to rely on the expertise and the independence of the auditors before they make financial investment decisions related to the company being audited. It is absolutely essential that the audits of company’s that rely on external investors for funding are wide-ranging, thorough and probing, a failure to do this and ask questions, is, in my impinion a dereliction of the auditors responsibility to the shareholders. If an audit is not indepependent, or in-depth, why on earth do so many companies pay so much money out every year for their audits?

I personally believe that, when the investigation begins, as it surely will, the part played by company auditors also needs investigating. Given they will be the only party to have profited in the ‘boom’ as well as profited out of the ‘bust’, yet they were also the only party, other that the regulatory authorities, that had a duty to ensure that they reported the facts, discovered questionable practices and reported their findings in an open, direct and a frank manner. I do not say that any of these accountancy firms are culpable, because I would have nothing to back this up with (other than logic of course), but I can say that, I believe they have failed, for the most part, in their duty to appropriately and competently assess the risks associated with some of the more questionable practices adopted by the banking and financial industries.

I also believe that shareholders that have lost money should consider individual or class actions against any audit firms that are left wanting in this current mess. For them to be preening themselves in front of the cameras, whilst rubbing their hands with glee, behind the scenes, is stomach churning. If there job was not to highlight risks, operating and reporting practices, asset values and profit claims, what on earth were they charging such massive audit fees for? The Audit Firms must not be allowed to extract themselves from any form of responsibility whilst the rest of us are left to pick up the tab and the pieces of what is left.

Article Source: Power to the People

Bradford & Bingley nationalisation, is it a good deal?

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As I have said, not for the first time, I am no financial expert, but I am a little confused about the ‘part nationalisation’and ‘part sell-off’ of the Bradford & Bingley deal. I accept that there is probably still more detail to come about, but from the little that is available, I find myself wondering, whether the government, on behalf of the hard-pressed taxpayers of this country, worked out a good deal.

In the past, building societies received deposits, in order that they could then use that money to offer mortgages and loans to others. The saver would receive interest on their money, the mortgage payer would pay interest on their borrowings and the building society would take a commission in return for the introduction and managing of the arrangement. Although this model has been turned on its head, with the wholesale trading of these mortgages, the principle should still be sound.

Therefore, if the government have taken on all of the mortgage debt of the Bradford & Bingley, estimated to be some £50bn, why not retain the deposits as well? Instead, they “sell”, the ambitious Spanish conglomerate, Santander, some £20bn of saver deposits (2.7 million people), for the miserly some of £612m. How can this be a good deal for the taxpayer? How can the government be so sure that the savers interests are protected, given we don’t really know that much about Santander. In fact, if the government were responsible for the sale of these customer deposits and something were to happen to Santander, would the government be culpable or liable, given it was they who negotiated the deal?

This particular arrangement can’t be good for the employees either, because Bradford & Bingley employed some 3,000 people and operated 197 branches. Does anyone imagine that a foreign owned bank, will give a toss about these employees? No, from what I can see, the UK government has passed over the profitable side of Bradford & Bingley to the Spanish owned bank ‘Abbey’, whilst leaving the British taxpayer exposed with just the bad mortgage debt. What was the point in getting rid of depositors money which has traditionally been used to offset mortgages? Looks like a very poorly thought out deal to me and somebody needs to explain why? Santander must be rubbing their hands with glee at the at the apparent naivety of the UK government.

I would not normally be a supporter of nationalisation, although in this case, as in the case of Northern Rock, there was probably no palatable alternative. However, I do believe that the government is responsible for driving home a decent deal for the taxpayers, they have a duty of care to the public purse and a responsibility to the taxpayer. No matter how urgent the problem, they should not lose sight of this. Yet here, from what I can see and perhaps against the views of many other observers, I fail to see how anyone, other than Santander would be considered to a be a winner.

HSBC increases mortgage rates in the UK

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HSBC have announced an increase in their mortgage rates to borrowers which will affect hundreds of thousands of borrowers. Now, whilst I accept that the inter bank lending rate has risen and that the banks have losses to contend with, this should be weighted against the fact that the same people that have mortgages, the tax payer, are currently accepting the increased risk brought about by the incompetence of the banks.

The Bank of England has advanced £billions of tax payers money to help prop the banks, this is not a risk free strategy and the evidence suggests that it hasn’t worked anyway. But there needs to be some form of quid pro quo, if the Bank of England is advancing the bank’s our money, then there needs to be a cap on the level of mortgage increases levied by these banks. Mortgage rate increases should be commensurate with need not greed. The simply can’t have it both ways. I would hope that the Bank of England and/or the government have sought some time of assurance from the bank’s that they won’t shaft mortgage payers in order to have a quick fix for their profits. Based on experience, I suspect this has not happened, but rest assured, a more savvy public will be watching and waiting.

Tax payer owned (not government owned as is often the way it is described), Northern Rock has indicated that it may well follow suit. Northern Rock should be setting an example for other lenders, no playing a game of me too.

Written by British Politics

25 September, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Federal Reserve Bank step in to help insurance firm AIG

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The world must welcome the news that the Federal Reserve Bank has stepped in to offer AIG, the American insurance giant with a bridging loan of $85bn. Although many pundits urged the fed not to intervene, there were just as many that were in support of such a move. The reality is, the Fed had little choice, given the ramifications of a failure of AIG could not be measured, but would have undoubtedly been far more significant than the failure of Lehman Brothers.

“It’s not just the failure of one company,” said Julie Grandstaff, vice president and managing director of StanCorp Investment Advisers. “It’s the ripple effect of the disappearance of counterparties” that was spurring urgent efforts to bolster AIG.

AIG’s difficulties have been exacerbated by a fall in its share price of some 60% and a downgrade of its financial standing by three levels to A- by Standard & Poor, making it more difficult and expensive to raise funds. Too many downgrades could trigger events requiring AIG to post billions in collateral to its credit default swap counter-parties. These ‘swaps’ are essentially insurance coverage to protect investors against defaulting bonds or debt. These products, often linked to the US real estate market, are at the heart of the current banking crisis and have led to massive write-downs of assets around the world.

AIG’s problems actually started earlier in the year after their auditors, Price Waterhouse claimed that AIG had material weakness in its internal controls over financial reporting and oversight. This type of qualification for any business is quite serious, but for the business such as AIG, it was bound to lead to some fall out, indeed, its shares fell some 10% on a single day in February following this news.

With one trillion dollars in assets and tentacles in many markets the failure of AIG would have affected many, many more companies, given it is not just an insurer, but a major player in the Credit Default Swap market. In the end the Fed could not stand by and do nothing.

Once the financial markets settle down, there is a good case for looking at how such major companies became engaged in such a risky strategy and who benefited, in what appears to smack of short-termism. There may even be a case to answered by the directors of some of the companies that have been affected, either way, there is certainly a case for more regulation and given American tax payers are expected to take up the risk, it is only right that they should seek assurances in terms of the way these types of companies trade in the future.