Senior staff may go as part of deal with regulators, but Stephen Hester’s job thought to be safe
Senior Royal Bank of Scotland bankers may step down in the coming weeks as part of the bailed-out bank’s multimillion-pound settlement with regulators over the Libor-rigging scandal.
John Hourican, head of the RBS investment bank, and Peter Nielsen, head of markets, may leave even though neither of them had personal knowledge of the attempts to manipulate interest rates that have already led to four staff being fired and others being suspended.
The chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, has been preparing the ground for a substantial Libor fine since the summer when Barclays was hit with a £290m penalty that forced out chief executive Bob Diamond. Hester was parachuted in to turn around RBS after £45bn taxpayer bailout, and while the manipulation of the benchmark rate carried on while he was at the helm, he is not thought to be under pressure.
The potential for resignations of senior RBS bankers emerged as four former top bankers at UBS – hit with a £944m Libor fine last month – appeared before the banking standards commission, which condemned their performance in unequivocal terms. Andrew Tyrie, the Tory MP who chairs the commission, said: “The level of ignorance of the board of UBS [over Libor-rigging] is staggering to the point of incredulity,” and accused the four of “gross negligence” and “being out their depth”.
During a long and humiliating hearing, Huw Jenkins – boss of UBS’s investment banking arm until 2008 and now London-based managing director of Brazilian investment banking business BTG Pactual – revealed he had received £10m in a year but handed back half that amount.
Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, former head of the UBS investment bank and head of the European operations at Bank of America, also appeared, alongside Jerker Johansson, who ran the investment banking arm from 2008 to 2009. Accused of being in “blissful ignorance”, Johansson conceded that the activities amounted to “stealing” and “negligence”.
Marcel Rohner, who was in charge of UBS when the Libor-rigging took place and left in 2009 after three fundraisings and eight profit warnings, was asked by Justin Welby, the incoming archbishop of Canterbury, what lessons he has learned from his tenure.
In a lengthy answer, Rohner cast doubt on the strategy of hiring big teams to poach business. “When you grow a business too quickly, you hire people from many different places and some of them … you really have to qualify as mercenaries,” Rohner said in a rare public appearance.
He insisted that the Libor-rigging had not been brought to his attention – even though he had made a presentation in 2007 boasting about the bank’s “structured Libor” business. The three other former UBS bankers who appeared all insisted they had also read about Libor after they left and were not interviewed by regulators.
Rohner said he was “shocked” when he read about the manipulation of Libor. “I felt embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. Accused of failing to spot the “epic” scandal, Rohner said he had done his best.
He admitted “accountability” for the manipulation of Libor and described decision-making at UBS as a “complete nightmare” and like “squaring of a circle”. But he did not support the idea of breaking up banks.
In a later session, Hector Sants, chief executive of the Financial Services Authority until days before the Barclays Libor fine, told the commission that only nine of the 40 individuals who knew of UBS’s Libor-rigging fell into the FSA’s jurisdiction.
Sants is poised to join Barclays as head of compliance this month and pledged to change the culture at the bank, indicating that he would set up a committee to focus on its culture.
“Banks have got to change and one key issue that’s got to change is the culture. If I can do that I believe I’ll have made a good contribution,” he saidSants, who was knighted in the New Year’s honours list and is expected to be on a £3m a year package at Barclays.