Small-business customers suffered most at the bank’s hands.
The Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK mega-lender that has already cost British taxpayers over £90 billion in bailouts, losses, fines and legal fees, could be about to face its biggest scandal yet following allegations staff were routinely “trained” to forge customer signatures.
First, managers were taught how to fake the names on key customer documents, according to whistle-blowers at the bank, cited by the Scottish Mail on Sunday. Staff were then allegedly shown how to download authentic signatures from the bank’s online system, trace them on to new documents by holding them against a window and to photocopy the paperwork a number of times, to “obscure the image somewhat” and thus avoid detection — a blatantly criminal practice that allegedly became commonplace throughout the bank to speed up processing.
The latest allegations are further confirmation of just how poisoned a legacy the pre-crisis management team left behind at the bank. Obsessed with achieving rapid growth at just about any cost, executives “bred a culture of impunity that affected most aspects of [RBS’] business,” says British financial journalist Ian Fraser.
Fraser was one of the first journalists to expose how some of the bank’s employees edited minutes of telephone conversations with customers to avoid the bank having to shell out compensation for misselling insurance products. At one point as many as 1,000 employees at RBS’s investment banking division (nearly a tenth of its back-office staff) were solely engaged in data-clean up and reconciliation — i.e., doctoring or recreating documents, such as loan and derivatives contracts, in ways that suited the bank and often undermined the position of counterparties…