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Archive for October 8th, 2012

At long last this morning, the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI)  announced that it is investigating the practices of six named financial institutions in the selling of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI)* to consumers from August 2007, a cut-off date that conveniently just misses the first half of 2007 when there were record sales of the type of products which might have been sold on credit – cars, furniture and electrical goods. PPI is a type of insurance sold to consumers when they’re taking out loans – for example when they’re buying a car – which should cover the repayment of the loan in the event of some misfortune, redundancy perhaps. The suspicion is that PPI was sold to consumers who couldn’t have benefited from the insurance, eg if they were contract workers, they mightn’t have been covered by the redundancy terms of the policies.

The six institutions named today are:

(1) Bank of Ireland
(2) AIB
(3) EBS
(4) Permanent TSB
(5) Ulster Bank
(6) GE Money

These six institutions will now be writing to borrowers with details of the investigation and how claims might be made. In addition to the named instutions, there are other institutions being investigated but the CBI is not yet at the point where it can announce the further steps that will apply to those additional institutions.

It’s a start, and a very late start –remember it was 2009 in the UK when the full magnitude of the PPI-misselling scandal became known and since then, over €2bn has been refunded to consumers there. In Ireland which tends to have similar banking practices to the UK, it was only in February 2012 when the CBI scratched its backside and started a preliminary investigation, and despite being chivvied along by politicians, notably the Fianna Fail spokesman Michael McGrath, it has taken eight months to get to the point of today’s announcement. If you were of a cynical nature, you might suggest the CBI is again more interested in protecting the finances of banks than protecting consumers. With 300,000 policies sold in Ireland since August 2007, the compensation bill could be huge.

So PPI is at least now being addressed. But what of the other expensive financial scandal in the UK, the misselling of so-called interest rate swaps? “Swaps” sound more complicated than PPI, but really boil down to insurance policies which meant if interest rates went up, the borrower could claim insurance to cover the increased payment. The thing is that banks missold these insurance policies, for example by selling policies with terms which exceeded the term of the loan. In the UK, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is investigating several banks including AIB and Bank of Ireland for misselling swaps, and there is talk of the overall bill for the UK banking sector running into billions. One bank alone, HSBC has made a provision for claims of €200m.

Back in July 2012, it was reported that Cortina-averse developer David Agar had settled a €30m case with Ulster Bank following a court case in Dublin’s High Court. So, is the CBI examining issues with misselling swaps here? It seems not.

On 18th September, 2012 the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has asked the Minister for Finance to outline what steps our own CBI and Financial Regulator had taken to ensure there hadn’t been widespread misselling here. Deputy Doherty received a complete non-answer which could almost be characterised as contemptuous, it certainly is ignorant of the implications of the Agar settlement. The full exchange is here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance following the uncovering of mis-selling of interest rate hedging products such as caps, collars, swaps and structured collars in banks in Britain, the steps taken by the Central Bank of Ireland and the Financial Regulator to assess if similar issues have arisen with the selling of similar products by banks operating here.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: Options, futures, swaps, forward rate agreements and any other derivative contracts relating to interest rates or yields are defined as financial instruments under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID). Credit institutions are subject to the MiFID Regulations when providing services in such instruments. The Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for the supervision of such activities when they are provided to clients. Clients can be categorised as retail, professional or eligible counterparties. The recent incidents of alleged interest rate misselling in the UK appear mainly to directly involve professional or eligible counterparty clients. There are less onerous conduct of business obligations on the level of protections to be applied to professional or eligible counterparties than to retail clients. For example, eligible counterparties are not subject to the best execution protections.

The Central Bank is currently mapping the MiFID services being provided by credit institutions with a view to ensuring that the best interests of consumers of financial instruments are protected and that the integrity of the market is upheld. In this context issues such as those raised by the Deputy will be considered and dealt with accordingly.

*You can read more about the UK PPI and swap mis-selling scandals here.

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“I am informed by NAMA that it does not, in all cases, have information on the identity of employers who recruited staff following their resignation from the Agency as some former staff have taken up employment overseas. However, in cases where NAMA has such information, NAMA is satisfied that no sales transactions have taken place between the entities involved and NAMA, its debtors or receivers appointed by it.” Minister for Finance Michael Noonan on 18th September 2012 in response to parliamentary question from Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty

“A filing with the land registry in the UK shows that Longbow registered a charge over the hotel in August this year.” Donal Donovan writing in the Irish Independent 8th October 2012

On 13th January 2012, it was reported that NAMA’s Head of Lending, Graham Emmett (see LinkedIn screen grab above from February 2012 – its authenticity was not established at the time, but I am not aware of its authenticity being rejected by Graham Emmett) was quitting the agency.  On 30th September, 2012, the Sunday Independent reported that Graham Emmett had left NAMA because of “state interference” but the only allusion to such interference is in the meat of the article where it is reported that Graham Emmett said “It’s not just that. It’s the minimum salary and the requests for [pay] reductions and the long-term incentive plan, the whole gamut. It’s not just to do with bonuses” Today it is reported by the Independent that “over the summer” the company which now employs Graham Emmett as a partner, ICG Longbow, bought a loan from NAMA.

“Oh aye…” I can hear you thinking but it should be clearly stated that the Independent today reports “Sources at NAMA say its deal to sell the loan was finalised over the summer, before Mr Graham became active at ICG Longbow” and “Sources at Longbow say there is no question of any involvement of Mr Emmett in the NAMA deal.”

But here we have a senior NAMA executive who no doubt had access to the treasure trove of detail on NAMA loans who quits in January 2012 seemingly because of dissatisfaction with his remuneration, tends to his garden for several months if the LinkedIn entry above is authentic and then, on a date that is not entirely clear, joins a new company in a senior role. And the company in which he is now a partner buys a NAMA loan, reportedly a loan connected to Barry Harte’s Ramada Docklands Hotel. What a specific purchase, no doubt NAMA can show a competitive tendering or bidding process before finalising the sale….

To repeat the important notice in the Independent today, there is no suggestion of wrong-doing on anyone’s part in this transaction. The report merely draws attention to the fact that departing NAMA employees will work for companies which do business with NAMA. NAMA will tell you – as Minister Noonan told Deputy Doherty – that NAMA employees are covered by the Official Secrets Act and face draconian penalties should they fall foul of their duties. Mind you, Minister Noonan didn’t reveal this transaction in his responses to Deputy Doherty on 18th September,2012, and although there might be Jesuitical quibbles over precisely when Graham Emmett joined ICG Longbow as a partner or that NAMA didn’t know about his new employer, you might have thought that in the interests of completeness on what is a very thorny subject, the Minister might at least have alluded to such a transaction.

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