THE BLOG

Banks Years Away From Sorting Reputation Deficit

12/08/2013 17:18 | Updated 13 August 2013

Banks are throwing piles of cash at dealing with the self-made disaster zone that currently trails in their wake.

But they are years away from achieving their clear-up goal - and there are various reasons why.

Bankers have never been blessed with popularity. Coming from a lawyer such as I am, that may have sound like stones being thrown from inside a glass house. But it is true - and as we stand today, it could not be more accurate.

Over recent years, the stock of our banks in the eyes of the public has plunged faster than the Barclays share price did as bosses announced moves to plug a multi-billion pound shortfall.
Our banks - not just Barclays - have been hit by mis-selling, appalling decisions, Libor fixing allegations, shareholder disputes, balance sheet problems -the list goes on.

It is easy to get caught up in the pure financial aspect of the Barclays story. The figures are staggering - recently, Barclays called on investors to raise £5.8 billion to help plug a £12.8 billion shortfall to meet regulatory requirements.

Contained in those figures were extra funds set aside to deal with various mis-selling claims - bringing in the human misery factor.

The bank, once presided over by Bob Diamond, had chalked up £1.35bn against further PPI claims, taking its total compensation fund to just under £4bn, and a further £650m for interest rate swap redress, increasing its provision here to £1.5bn.

PPI is a debate I won't enter here, but the interest rate swap situation, which also involved other high street banks, is a scandal of huge proportions. I have called it one of the biggest blots on the banks' copy books.

Join this up with the other scandals, and it means at present lots of work - and funds - going in to clearing up one big banking mess.

But if anyone thought they are past the worst, they should think again - UK banks are still years away from getting out of the current strife.

To put a figure on it, it could be as much a six years, maybe as little as three - if they play their cards right. I have acted for and against major banks in a legal career spanning more than 20 years. But I have never, ever seen anything quite like this. It is truly unprecedented.

On the same day as the Barclays announcement, there were two other key developments of note. In the first, there was a significant High Court hearing involving various sets of shareholders who are suing the Royal Bank of Scotland for £4billion. This is an American style class action and could run and run.

Deutsche Bank also declared it had suffered a dip in profits - this was due to, in part, litigation fees it faced due to Libor allegations and those relating to the US housing market.

That is why the timescale is so long. While there are various compensation schemes, there are also various cases against various banks in addition to those listed above which have just began or are set to begin.

Some are financially supported through litigation funding, and the company to which I am consultant, Vannin Capital, have been approached by various groups seeking help in this way. As an aside, the growth in the funding industry has helped level the playing field in this respect.

Banks are being given the carrot and stick treatment - they say they are determined to clear up their acts, while at the same time they are being forced to.

And it represents not only a shift in how society views the banks, but also how the courts are now dealing with them. And that in turn feeds back into society.

In one case recently, I saw the rare occurrence of a bank being ruled against in favour of the customer. I believe this represented a shift in the balance of power. No longer are bankers seen as the Masters of the Universe, as Tom Wolfe so famously put it in Bonfire of the Vanities.

This, in my view, is set to continue as the consumer, the shareholder and the businessman, all seek redress from the banks who they once feared to go anywhere near.

Sure, there are arguments that what is taking place at the banks is not good for the investor, or indeed the economy. It's certainly not great for the banks. And yes, the banks, including those part-owned by you and me, are important to the City and the country, as is the talent they possess.

But the little guy is telling them they've had it their own way for too long. And this is why they face a long time in the red when it comes to their reputational and legal balance.