The banking sector has recovered, but has it rehabilitated?

The big four banks reveal the best results in years, but the shadow of scandal still haunts them.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 21 Feb 2018

As the UK's four listed banks release their annual results this week, you could almost be forgiven for feeling a little optimistic.

At a glance it is Lloyds that has been the biggest winners. António Horta Osório, CEO of the now fully privately group, had the pleasure of overseeing its highest pre-tax profit (£5.3bn) since 2006. One might say the 24% increase is almost enough to justify his now £6.42 million salary...

HSBC has seen its profits almost double to £12.3bn, and analysts have even predicted that RBS, which publishes its performance on Friday 23 February, will renounce the habit of a decade and post a profit for the first time since 2008.

It all sounds rather rosey doesn't it, but the ghosts of the past don't rest easily and UK banking is still being held back by prior scandals.

'Disgraceful' is the term used by Nicky Morgan to describe the true nature of RBS's Global Restructuring Group (GRG) - the so called support unit for troubled businesses - after the threatening behaviour, 'dash for cash' and general exploitation of small business that occurred between 2008 to 2013, was revealed.

RBS is not alone. There are rumours that HSBC will need to part with $1.5 billion in penalties for alleged money laundering and tax evasion in Europe; the latest in a long line of dodgy doings associated with the global giant.

Likewise, Lloyds continues to be undermined by the reparations for the PPI scandal which has so far cost it £18 billion. Profits could have been higher, remember, had the group not had to put aside £600 million in the final quarter to pay compensation.

Sadly, it's all part of the same repeating pattern; bank does wrong, is found out, apologises and sets up a programme to refund the affected clients. What does not seem to change is the desire to well... change.

'We are deeply sorry that customers did not receive the experience they should have done while in GRG,' was the candid response offered by an RBS spokesman. Whether those words will be accompanied by some kind of financial settlement is not known, but for a bank that is 73% owned by the British taxpayer, it won't be the executives that suffer.

Until the cycle of wrongdoing and apology is broken, you can't help but feel as if there is a general sense that they feel like they've gotten away with it all.

On the RBS group website, the 'About Us' section invites the visitor to 'Find out how the bank is becoming stronger, simpler and fairer'; it would appear that we're still waiting. So long as there are outrages like the way GRG treated small businesses, banks will always be accused of putting profit ahead of their own integrity.  

JPstock /


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime