Transcripts of pre-financial crisis conversations show senior bankers’ disregard for customers
By Rob Davies
RBS bankers joked about destroying the US housing market after making millions by trading loans that staff described as “total fucking garbage”, according to transcripts released as part of a $4.9bn (£3.8bn) settlement with US prosecutors.
Details of internal conversations at the bank emerged just weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, which saw RBS rescued with a £45bn bailout from the UK government.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) criticised RBS over its trade in residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) – financial instruments underwritten by risky home loans that are cited as pivotal in the global banking crash.
It said the bank made “false and misleading representations” to investors in order to sell more of the RMBS, which are forecast to result in losses of $55bn to investors.
Transcripts published alongside the settlement reveal the attitude among senior bankers at RBS towards some of the products they sold.
The bank’s chief credit officer in the US referred to selling investors products backed by “total fucking garbage” loans with “fraud [that] was so rampant … [and] all random”.
He added that “the loans are all disguised to, you know, look okay kind of … in a data file.”
The DoJ said senior RBS executives “showed little regard for their misconduct and, internally, made light of it”.
In one exchange, as the extent of the contagion in the banking industry was becoming clear, RBS’ head trader received a call from a friend who said: “[I’m] sure your parents never imagine[d] they’d raise a son who [would] destroy the housing market in the richest nation on the planet.”
He responded: “I take exception to the word ‘destroy.’ I am more comfortable with ‘severely damage.’”
Another senior banker explained to a colleague that risky loans were the result of a broken mortgage industry that meant lenders were “raking in the money” and were incentivised to make as many loans as possible.
Employees who might raise the alarm about the riskiness of such lending “don’t give a shit because they’re not getting paid”, he said.
The bank made “hundreds of millions of dollars” from selling RMBS, the DoJ said, while disguising the risk they posed to investors, which included a group of nuns who lost 96% of their investment.
By October 2007, as signs of stress began to show in the banking system, RBS’ chief credit officer wrote to colleagues expressing his true feelings about the burgeoning volume of subprime loans in the housing market.
He said loans were being pushed by “every possible … style of scumbag”, adding that it was “like quasi-organised crime”.
“Nobody seems to care,” he added.
The DoJ criticised RBS’ failure to do due diligence on the loans it was packaging, saying the bank feared it would lose out to rivals if it performed stricter tests.
One analyst at the lender referred to the bank’s due diligence procedures as “just a bunch of bullshit”, according to the transcripts.
When the bank became concerned about the poor quality of loans and started imposing tighter due diligence, one senior banker complained, saying: “Oh, God. Does anyone want to make money around here any more?”
RBS expected to make $20m from one deal that involved trading particularly risky loans, but faced resistance from the bank’s chief credit officer.
A senior executive responded to the concerns by telling the bank’s head trader: “Please don’t fuckin’ blow this one. We need every dollar we can get our hands on.”
Internal conversations between bankers also offer some insight into their growing realisation of the poor quality of the loans the bank owned and sold.
In September 2007, one trader referred to an appraisal of loans as giving “pretty shitty results”.
The transcripts were released by the DoJ as it confirmed the details of the settlement with the bank over its trading in RMBS.
RBS said: “Under the terms of the settlement, RBS disputes the allegations but will not set out a legal defence, while the settlement does not constitute a judicial finding.”
Certainty over the scale of the settlement will allow the bank to pay its first dividend in a decade this year.
The dividend is worth £240m and the Treasury will receive £149m as RBS is still 62%-owned by the government.
Ross McEwan, RBS chief executive, said: “This settlement dates back to the period between 2005 and 2007. There is no place for the sort of unacceptable behaviour alleged by the DoJ at the bank we are building today.”
He added that the bank could now “focus our energy on serving our customers better”.
But league tables published by the Competition and Markets Authority on Wednesday placed RBS joint bottom for customer service, with fewer than half of customers saying they would recommend the bank to a friend.
RBS will have to publish the results in branches, on its website and mobile app from today.
This article (RBS bankers joked about destroying the US housing market) was originally published on The Guardian and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.