HBOS sacked and gagged bank risk whistleblower

HBOS sacked and gagged a senior executive who four years ago warned the board of the bank that they were taking excessive risks, according to evidence given in Parliament this morning.

MPs on the Treasury Select Committee were given details of a submission from the former head of risk at HBOS who claimed that he warned the board repeatedly that they were taking risks with financial stability and consumer protection.

Full text: whistleblower statement

Paul Moore, a former partner of KMPG and head of group regulatory risk at HBOS between 2002 and 2005, accused the bank of “a total failure of all key aspects of corporate governance” and said that he was repeatedly rebuffed and thwarted when he tried to register concern.

In a highly sensitive development he also pointed the finger of blame firmly at Sir James Crosby, the former chief executive of HBOS, who is deputy chairman of the chief City regulator the Financial Services Authority and a senior adviser to the Government.

By dismissing him without good reason HBOS had broken in-house rules and then replaced him with a “personal” appointment of a woman sales manager with less experience of risk management and against the wishes of other directors.

In his submission to the committee Mr Moore said that he warned HBOS it was growing too fast, warned that it was culturally indisposed to being challenged and warned that its sales culture was “significantly out of balance with their systems and controls”.

He also said that he told the board the bank needed to slow down but that he was over-ruled by the then finance director when he tried to get his views put in writing in the board minutes.

After being sacked he went to an industrial tribunal, at which point HBOS settled for “substantial damages”.

“I was subjected to a gagging order but have decided to speak out now because I believe the public interest demands it,” he said in the submission.

The details of that agreement were unclear today but Mr Moore gave an interview to the BBC in October criticising the approach to risk taken by HBOS.

“I think a concern everybody had [was] whether or not the business was under control,” he said, claiming that the bank’s priority was switched from risk management to growth under Sir James, who was subsequently appointed by the Government to lead a review of the mortgage market.

“The retail bank was going at breakneck speed and an internal risk and compliance function feels like a man in a rowing boat trying to slow down an oil tanker. I’m not saying that there were any bad intentions in that but it was difficult to slow things down,” Mr Moore said.

Mr Moore said in a previous interview that HBOS had been chasing sales too aggressively and with little regard for risk as early as 2002.

HBOS collapsed last year after lending too aggressively and relying too much on wholesale funding and had to be rescued by Lloyds TSB. The two banks took £17 billion of taxpayers’ money to beef up their balance sheets and the Government now owns 43 per cent of the combined bank.

Mr Moore concluded by saying, “One final observation I would make about HBOS disaster is this: wasn’t it actually Sir James Crosby, rather than Andy Hornby [his successor as chief executive], who was the original architect of the HBOS retailing strategy? Shouldn’t the Committee be asking him to testify?”

The dismissal of the whistleblower emerged as Lord Stevenson answered questions from MPs on the Treasury Select Committee about the British banking crisis.

Lord Stevenson told MPs: “We are profoundly and, I think I would say, unreservedly sorry at the turn of events.”

In evidence to the committee today Lord Stevenson, the former HBOS boss, emphatically denied suggestions from Andrew Tyrie MP, that Mr Moore had been “subject to threatening behaviour” by the bank.

He rejected Mr Moore’s allegations, saying that the bank commissioned an independent study and the matter was closed to the satisfaction of the FSA. “I remember the incident very well. It was taken very seriously by the board.”

George Mudie MP said, “At the end of the day, you sacked your group risk fellow. Now four years later it turns out he was right and you were wrong. You’re all in bloody denial.”

Lord Stevenson was appearing alongside Sir Fred Goodwin and Sir Tom McKillop, the former chief executive and former chairman respectively of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

RBS and HBOS, which is now part of the Lloyds Banking Group after a rescue by Lloyds TSB, have been bailed out with £37 billion from the taxpayer.

Sir Fred has been blamed widely for the demise of RBS, which is now nearly 70 per cent owned by the taxpayer, after the bank pressed ahead with the takeover of ABN Amro, the Dutch bank.

Sir Tom admitted to MPs this morning that the takeover of ABN Amro was a mistake and that RBS had overpaid for the company.

February 10, 2009
Patrick Hosking, Banking and Finance Editor

Source: Times Online

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