First I would like to announce some important news from SME Alliance and not least because it is relevant to today's meeting. As you all know, the three directors of SME Alliance up until now have been me (Nikki), Nick Gould and Jon Welsby. For no other reason than huge personal commitments, Jon has resigned as a director and much as Nick and I are gutted, we fully appreciate it is a demanding job and one that, for the moment, Jon is struggling to fulfil along with the extraordinary work load he has to deal with. He is of course still a dedicated member of SME Alliance and someone we continue to rely on for help, support and advice.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Andy Keats who we have been working with very closely on a number of serious issues, is now a director of SME Alliance. So the meeting we had today at the FCA, which was initiated by Andy and SBCB but which SME Alliance has been heavily involved in, was a very serious meeting for SME Alliance with Steve Middleton, Andy, Mark Wright and I all representing the bigger picture of the SME Alliance membership as well as the issues SBCB is continuing to move forward for specific clients. I am sure everyone will be as pleased as Nick and I are that Andy is now officially a director of SME Alliance.
So – today's meeting. Those members who attended our last meeting at the Metro Bank will have seen Andy's presentation on what can only be called the manipulation or falsification of information of clients central files by RBS. There is no way to portray this in a more PC manner. The information collected and collated by Andy has now been substantially added to by submissions to James Hurley at the Times (after his article which prompted at least 20 people to contact him) and some extraordinary cases (including SME Alliance members cases) which Steve Middleton has been working on. And please note – not all of the evidence uncovered so far has been directly related to RBS (although the majority has to date).
I would just point out that in order to fully identify the falsification or manipulation of documentation in central files has taken hours of work because “everything is in the detail.” Not only that but I can confirm that, as someone who spends hours reading the documents forwarded by members, I, like so many other people who are not experts in the field, very often fail to see the significance of what I am reading. So – many thanks to Andy who has raised these issues and also to Steve and the advisers of SME Alliance who have the ability to recognise issues and facts that could have so easily have fallen by the wayside.
The end result is today we have presented a considerable amount of evidence to the FCA which will now have to be very carefully considered and acted on. How they will react? I don't know – and I don't know this in any other sense than the obvious fact that the representatives of the FCA will have to have some time (however short) to consider the barrage of information they have been given. They have seen the presentations from Andy and Steve – they have got those presentations and it is only reasonable they will need time to conclude how best to deal with the issues we have raised.
We absolutely don't want to influence what the FCA does next. Clearly, we have our own views of how this should progress. But today's meeting was not, in anyway an attack on the FCA it was simply an excellent opportunity to present a series of indisputable facts – which we did.
We were luck to have with us a very good barrister to put his views on the evidence presented and also Gutto Bebb to give his views. Someone asked me at the end of the meeting is I think Gutto Bebb is one of the good guys? Yes I do and I think his presence there today was confirmation of this – he knows SMEs have serious issues with banks and these issues need to be addressed. We thank him very much for his attendance today.
Conclusions – there are none today. If I dropped a ton of bricks on your head today, it's reasonable you'd take a few days to recover and to think how you might come to terms with what has happened and consider what to do about it. I think that's where the FCA are today. They need to consider these presentations in detail (not just a 2 hour introduction) and they need to consider the regulatory implications. Additionally they will be waiting for the submissions from our barrister which will arrive on Tuesday – clearly a barristers opinion will have some influence on conclusions and outcomes.
I can confirm the FCA did ask if Andy and we are happy for the FCA to present the evidence we have to the police – and yes, of course we are because it does appear some of this evidence includes criminal conduct. However, this does not exclude in any way the regulatory breaches identified which the FCA themselves must deal with.
So what I'm saying is – today's meeting was very positive. To the best of my knowledge (and I was there) no one challenged the evidence presented. And as such, something has to happen. What? Well let's give the FCA representatives present time to consider their best course of action. Should that action not comply with anything we or our legal representative feels is reasonable, we will of course react. But we can't react in advance of the FCA receiving our final submissions or their replies.
The really important things about this is – a year ago we would neither have collated such compelling evidence of bank misconduct, nor would the FCA been willing to listen to us. There was nothing about today's meeting I found antagonistic. We took the evidence – the FCA listened and, I would say, were quite shocked. Let's not precipitate what happens next. If it's good or even reasonable (which I think it will be) then we have a good case to go forward and protect our members. If it's not (and I have no reason to think the FCA will ignore our submissions) we obviously have plans going forward.
Most of us have waited years for any kind of progress. I think we made some progress today but we have to give the FCA a small window of time to consider everything we have said. That's only reasonable. As Nick Gould continually says – we are here to break down solo's. We would be happy to consider the FCA wants to seriously consider our submissions and evidence about misconduct. Hopefully they did today because. We will keep members updated as soon as we have any news. It would be wrong to jump to any conclusions in the meantime. We are no longer presenting information, evidence or data as “individual cases” and we are a united front so the FCA will hopefully take this on board. I believe they will. Interesting times.