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UK parliamentarians seek executive bans for HBOS collapse

  

REUTERS

A video grab image shows Dennis Stevenson, the former chairman of HBOS speaking to the Treasury Select Committee in London on February 10, 2009.

REUTERS

HBOS's managers blamed the financial crisis for the collapse

LONDON: Bailed-out British lender HBOS was so badly run it would have failed even without the 2008 financial crisis and the regulator should consider banning its former bosses from the industry, a panel of parliamentarians said in a damning report.

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, tasked with finding ways to reform UK banks, said HBOS was an "accident waiting to happen", with bad lending and losses across the business likely to have led to its insolvency even without the funding and liquidity problems of the financial crisis.

Although regulators bore some of the blame, primary responsibility lay with Dennis Stevenson, chairman from the formation of HBOS in 2001 until its collapse, and former chief executives James Crosby and Andy Hornby, it said on Friday.

There was a "colossal failure of senior management and the board", said Commission chairman Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative lawmaker who expressed surprise that only Peter Cummings, who was head of corporate lending at HBOS, had so far been punished.

"The Commission has asked the regulator to consider whether these individuals should be barred from undertaking any future role in the sector," Tyrie said in the report.

Cummings was fined 500,000 pounds ($759,000) by Britain's financial services regulator in September and banned for life from the industry.

HBOS, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, had to be rescued with a government-engineered takeover by rival Lloyds, which subsequently needed a 20-billion-pound bailout to survive.

Hornby, who since leaving HBOS has worked as chief executive of healthcare group Alliance Boots and is currently the boss of betting shop chain Coral, declined to comment on the report.

Coral, however, had nothing but praise for Hornby.

"Coral is performing extremely well, and we are really pleased with the great job Andy is doing."

Crosby, a senior independent director at the world's biggest catering company Compass and an adviser to private equity firm Bridgepoint, as well as Stevenson, who sits in the upper chamber of parliament, could not be reached for comment.

HBOS was created in 2001 by a merger between Halifax, a former mutually owned savings and loans firm, and the 300-year-old Bank of Scotland. It ramped up lending using cheap funding on the wholesale markets rather than safer customer deposits, and its high-risk strategy was exposed when that funding dried up following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

HBOS's managers blamed the financial crisis for the collapse, but the Commission said the bank's business model was inherently flawed and its board was a "model of self-delusion".

"The sums would never have added up," Tyrie said.

"The Commission has estimated that, taken together, the losses incurred by the corporate, international and treasury divisions would have led to insolvency, regardless of funding and liquidity problems, had HBOS not been bailed out by both Lloyds and the taxpayer," he said.

The Commission said 25 billion pounds was lost on bad corporate loans, and there were losses of 15 billion at its international business and 7 billion at its treasury unit.

The report said the role played by Britain's financial regulator had been "thoroughly inadequate". It said the Financial Services Authority, which was closed down at the beginning of April, had identified some of the issues that would eventually contribute to the bank's downfall but failed to follow through on its concerns.

Britain's Finance Ministry said the failure of HBOS was a "symptom of the financial crisis and the regulatory system in place at that time". It said the introduction of a tighter regulatory regime would help prevent future failures.

The responsibilities of the FSA have been passed to two new bodies, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Crosby was chief executive of HBOS between 2001 and 2006 before being succeeded by Hornby.


 

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