Mr Chairman, I am here today wearing two hats; Firstly, as a shareholder I am head of SME Alliance in Scotland and am representing them. I would just reassure you that contrary to any perception there may be, this is not a bank bashing organisation as our chairman was at pains to point out at the FT Conference on Banking Standards two weeks ago. Ross McEwan, I believe that you shared the platform as a speaker.
At that event our chairman said he was there because he felt that bank customers who had lost out through poor governance, lack of regulation and lack of being “treated fairly” in the banking system, needed to be heard.
SME Alliance is not necessarily a single issue organisation, but inevitably most of the current membership was drawn to it because they all felt there was no other way of expressing their helplessness at being contemptuously dismissed by their banks. The members are drawn from customers of all the banks, however, mindful of the very recently published report concerning the number of complaints made about banks in general, RBS having by far the highest number of complaints, it is therefore inevitable that our membership is representative of that figure, with a high proportion being RBS customers.
SME Alliance would prefer if the membership could bring their complaints to you and receive a conciliatory response, however you persist in making this virtually impossible with your adversarial and confrontational attitude, which I must say was not helped one little bit by a recent newspaper article attributed to one of your most senior directors, labelling some small business owners as “CHANCERS WHO HAD PUT THEIR LIVES INTO FAILED BUSINESSES AND WERE NOW LOOKING FOR A BAILOUT” This was followed by the further comment “LET THEM SUE. WE’LL SEE THEM IN COURT”
Irrespective of who that senior director is, it is you, Ross McEwan, as Chief Executive who bears responsibility for what emanates from your bank, therefore I address you directly.
You make public announcements claiming engagement with your customers and earning their trust. I ask you this; do you earn trust by insulting customers who have genuine grievances that you refuse to address? Do you not realise that this is about real people and real lives, not just about numbers and units?
It is little wonder that you are repeatedly forced to respond that allegations have caused, and continue to cause, huge reputational damage to the bank, when there is such arrogant and contemptuous dismissal of customers’ legitimate and genuine complaints. Is it any wonder that there are so many very vocal customers and ex-customers of this bank, victims of financial vandalism, who are now incensed at being branded as CHANCERS SEEKING A PAYDAY? It’s little wonder that one of the financial advisers to SME Alliance perceptively noted; - banking is where integrity is just the name of a racehorse.
The Tomlinson exposures, and, last October the revelations from BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed of the Dash for Cash, followed by the disclosure of the victory emails sent by the GRG division when yet another hapless victim was financially massacred, just serve as a direct counter to your repeated assertions. Frankly Ross, I question your grasp of honesty, integrity, trust and ethics, when dismissing these allegations. You publicly acknowledge legacy issues but clearly make no attempt at addressing illegality within the bank.
Capitulating last week in the Hockins’ case, agreeing a settlement to their long running dispute surely served as an example of how confrontation could have been avoided, had you chosen to address them constructively with the conciliatory approach.
Ross, there is a deluge of complaints from some very vocal victims which you simply and contemptuously dismiss by denying their legitimacy. The Hockins are just but one example and through SME Alliance I can tell you that for all Hockins, for all the Clive May’s, for all the Andy Keats, for all the Mike Wilson’s, and for all the Andy Quoi’s, to name but a very few, there are many more victims like me standing behind with exactly the same stories of illegal conduct. It is wholly inconceivable that we are all wrong when we have any amount of evidence examined by legal and financial experts verifying the claims as being legitimate and in most instances clearly identifying that fraud is the common theme running through each and every case.
Can I direct you to look very closely at the recent example set by another Chief Executive of a public company, Thomas Cook? Peter Frankhauser, whose shining example of corporate governance and leadership, demonstrates to the public a very encouraging and enlightened attitude from a company boss who finally saw the light and took personal responsibility for so many failings within Thomas Cook.
Of specific note is his admission that the company spent ten years talking about their customer and not talking with their customer. He ditched his advisers and spoke directly with the customer thereby achieving a solution that could have been reached so much sooner had common sense and understanding prevailed.
I really wish to take issue with you Ross when you regularly appear before the media saying that all allegations of criminality have been investigated with no evidence being found, and earnestly asking customers to trust the Bank as it has set aside the past, and dealt with legacy issues.
Well Ross, I think you have been imbibing in far too much of Scotland’s best known export, believing your own sound bites and ignoring a welter of evidence provided by a multitude of exposures that appear with regularity in all the media. Should you take time to consider your false statements and the effect they may have on the general public, I think even the simplest of minds would understand that internal self examination and reporting will never reveal the truth.
Please Ross, cease with the insults, drop the crooks, the connivers, and the cover up brigade within the bank; stop being cloth eared and be like Peter Frankhauser, take on board what he plainly and honestly stated, and realise you cannot win when confronted by thousands of complaints which are similar in nature and revolve around one division within the bank.
Actions speak louder than words and perhaps, just perhaps, with deed instead of words, our membership and the wider number of aggrieved customers will start to believe you, and give you a chance of retrieving the trust you have destroyed and of repairing the huge gulf separating you from millions of customers, because very evidently you and the bank, are widely perceived as a disgrace.
Many at SME Alliance have been forced to pursue the bank through the courts and I know that you are well aware of an impending action against you with multiple claimants of which I am one. It would seem quite clear to those advising that there is clear and irrefutable evidence to bring these claims successfully and therefore my comments above may, I hope, give you cause for reflection, particularly when you consider the Hockins case and your capitulation when faced with evidence for instance of your staff telling them that they had not suffered enough.
Wearing my second hat, I am here as an ex customer. Ross, two weeks ago you are quoted as saying at the FT Conference on Banking Standards: - Call me old fashioned but I want customers to pay us back.
I was so bemused reading this that I had to read it again and check with my fellow SME Alliance colleagues who were present at the Conference for confirmation that those were your words. For avoidance of doubt and for the benefit of the audience, are those your words? Thank you, Ross and on that basis I am going to publicly challenge you on that statement.
Do you know why? Well let me tell you:-
In July 1997 I borrowed £800K to expand our business. 16 months later, in November 1998, I deposited more than £800K with the bank and sought to repay the debt but RBS stopped me from doing so. I was an old fashioned borrower who wanted to minimise debt as much as possible as quickly as possible, but instead of accepting my cash at that time, the bank moved our accounts under the control of your Jackboot division latterly known as GRG and drove us into bankruptcy with all the attendant misery and personal anguish which has ensued.
For years I could never understand why and it is thanks to the dedication and expertise of financial, legal and banking investigators and advisers that I now know the answer as to why RBS effectively stole our money; stole our hotel business; stole our house and every other asset we owned and drove us to bankruptcy.
My impression of old fashioned bankers is of people in whom you could have complete trust, who had ethics, integrity and honesty. So Ross before you trot out the usual response from the bank, I do accept that we have been through the court process and made a complaint to the Ombudsman. However, the issues I am asking you to personally examine and which have now been shown to demonstrate illegality by RBS were never ventilated in court. I ask you please Ross; set aside your prejudice and as an old fashioned banker look at this with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear mind. I am offering an olive branch for the final time here, and ask you to note down the following points.
So here is my public challenge to you Ross:-
1) Personally investigate the dealings I had with RBS starting from May 1997 when I was introduced to the bank and spent hours discussing and negotiating the proposal of moving our business accounts to RBS
2) I was old fashioned enough in wanting to repay the loans I was asking for, as quickly as possible and if you read the file notes of that time you ought to see that I explicitly requested the structure of the loans to allow for full repayment as soon as possible within the term time suggested by the Relationship Manager I negotiated with. The notes also ought to say that I was assured that early redemption would cost me three months interest penalty as it was projected they would be residential mortgage type loans.
3) You ought to read that I agreed to move our accounts to RBS on this specific assurance and became a customer of RBS in July 1997.
4) Move on 16 months to November 1998 when I deposited money with the bank.
5) Specifically ask to see file notes of the meeting held in Dundee with the Relationship Manager when the issue of full loan repayment was discussed. You ought to read that I asked for the figure outstanding on the loans so that I could authorise full repayment from cash which was held on deposit and which on 6th November 1998 was more than sufficient to expunge the loans in their entirety. Also note that there was a witness to that meeting who will corroborate the fact that the main item for discussion was full repayment.
Having investigated my files Ross perhaps you can then tell me why the bank, having extended loans totalling £800K in July 1997, refused to accept full repayment from me in November 1998 from the amount on deposit that was in excess of the outstanding £760K or thereby at that time?
So, come on Ross, be a man, be the old fashioned banker you purport to be, ditch the screen of lawyers and other advisers you hide behind, and just this once, engage with me, the customer, by accepting my challenge to you of personally investigating my complaint and acknowledge the evidence identified by others of illegality. As a banker, meet with me face to face, look me in the eye, and tell me why the bank stopped me repaying the loans in November 1998.
Maybe you will choose to ignore my request and dismiss the olive branch I have extended; either way it will make no difference to me as I can and will continue with the legal claim mentioned before.
It’s over to you Ross.
Nigel K Henderson