Yesterday the 80 per cent taxpayer-owned RBS reported a loss of £446 million for the three months to March 31. This followed an £856 million provision for “litigation and conduct charges” as well as £453 million for re-structuring costs.
You might have thought the worst was over when the bank reported a £1.2 billion profit last year – and a set of results less blighted by one-off fines and re-structuring costs.
But revenue for the first quarter of 2015 was 14 per cent lower at £4.33 billion compared with the same period last year.
So here we are, seven years on from the global financial crisis and the collapse of RBS into the hands of the taxpayer – and still the bank is wallowing in losses and provisions.
You can’t help wondering whether it might have been better for RBS to have been allowed to fail in the autumn of 2008, the pieces bought up by predators and the bank’s management scattered in the winds.
Yet again beleaguered chief executive Ross McEwan (pictured) says the bank was “making good progress towards its targets for 2015” and creating a “stronger, simpler” business.”
But he added there were “still many conduct and litigation issues on the horizon”.
Remember that almost all of these “conduct and litigation issues” arose subsequent to the taxpayer rescue in 2008 and are not related to the financial crisis.
And remember, too, that throughout this period, bonuses continued to be shelled out to the top brass as if the bank had behaved properly and was steaming towards full recovery!
True, after all fines, charges and one-off costs, “adjusted operating profit” (after all the bad stuff) rose 16 per cent to £1.63 billion as RBS benefited from “generally benign credit conditions.”
But the litany of fines and charges stretches on… and on.
The bank has had to set aside £334 million following allegations about foreign exchange manipulation. That RBS is just one of six banks fined a total of £2.8 billion for failing to stop traders trying to manipulate markets last year is no excuse – particularly for a state-owned bank being back nursed to health in the intensive casualty ward.
RBS has already paid £399 million in fines to US and UK regulators over the Forex scandal.
RBS has also had to make a £275 million provision for customer complaints about certain bank accounts.
In addition – if your head is not already spinning from these provisions – RBS has had to make a £176 million provision for US legal action over the sale of mortgage-backed securities… and a further £100 million for payment protection insurance.
Little wonder that shares in RBS fell 13.3p or 3.8 per cent to 336.2p on the news – down 16 per cent from their 2015 high.
And little wonder, after such a relentless litany of woes, that long-suffering shareholders have thrown in the towel.
They – and the taxpayer – had every right to expect better behaviour – and a stronger recovery – than the bank has managed over the past seven years.
Far from Ross McEwan having been handed a bank with the worst behind it two years ago, it has turned out to be a poisoned chalice – and with personnel in some divisions of the bank unreformed, seemingly ignorant of the scale of the crisis that hit the bank – and the basic responsibilities that rested on them.
At the very least a moratorium on bank bonuses until these “bad behaviour” provisions would surely be appropriate. But even this seems too much to expect.
It would be comforting to be able to sign off on a positive note – that after all these massive “kitchen sink” provisions the road ahead was now clear.
But this is not the case. Expect more “bad stuff” before we can start to hope that the bank really is over the worst.