The investigation was initiated by RBS following allegations by government adviser and entrepreneur Lawrence Tomlinson that the bank had been deliberately “killing off” its customers’ businesses and seizing their assets.
Ross McEwan, RBS CEO, said: “The trust that a bank has with its customers is fundamental. That trust was put at risk at RBS by the allegation of systematic abuse made in the Tomlinson report.
“I welcome the Clifford Chance findings which show no evidence of the serious and damaging allegation that we had set out to deliberately defraud our business customers.”
The allegations suggested that RBS has deliberately distressed businesses in order to bring them into its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) and then seize their assets using its property arm, West Register.
Clifford Chance interviewed 138 small business customers in the recovery unit, 45 employees and reviewed 130 files.
It did find that some former customers had complained of “insensitive, rude or aggressive behaviour” when being transferred into GRG, but was unable to verify these.
It also said: “We found it difficult to understand how the bank calculated the fees which it proposed to customers in any particular case and therefore found it difficult to assess allegations of unfairness.”
McEwan said the allegations had a “profound” effect on bank and it was “determined to earn back the trust” of its customers.
Despite the findings, RBS said it would be winding down and selling all the assets of West Register due to a “damaging perception that the bank had a conflict of interest when it purchased a property as part of a restructuring process.”
It also said it would seek to boost transparency in its turnaround group and improve training of relationship managers.
Tomlinson said he didn’t agree the Clifford Chance report had totally exonerated RBS but welcomed the decision to wind down West Register.
He said: “It is unsurprising they have not found any clear evidence of fraud, which is not something I have ever accused the bank of.
“I am struggling, however, to understand headlines that the Clifford Chance report gives RBS a clean bill of health as their broader findings around the lack of fee transparency, lack of adherence to mandatory rules for internal valuations and need for an improvement in the business culture of GRG tally with the central themes of the Tomlinson Report and the patterns of behaviour I witnessed.
“It’s important to note that Clifford Chance did not investigate or reach conclusions on areas such as the validity of valuations and treatment of businesses.”
He added that he was looking forward to the results of an inquiry by the Financial Conduct Authority into the matter which is ongoing.
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