Last Tuesday, the TSC released the unexpurgated version of the GRG Report - the report into RBS' Global Restructuring Group prepared for the FCA by Promontory. Due to confidentiality concerns, the FCA had refused to release more than a summary, despite the TSC's urging; eventually the TSC lost patience, required the FCA to sent it a copy, and then published it under Parliamentary privilege.
Both the saga and the report itself have been covered extensively. However, in the justified flurry of reporting, some important elements have been missed, forgotten or undercooked. And I've not seen much that attempts to draw out the lessons for other regulated firms.
Here are six aspects of the GRG Report to start redressing the balance:
I've not seen much comment recently about how long the actual report took - 2 years, 4 months - more than twice the original plan. The reason, given in the report's Foreword is complexity - both of the work itself and of RBS' comments on the way through.
Historically, both firms and the regulator have consistently underestimated the likely duration of an investigation and the importance of completing it quickly (cf PPI). Consequently, their planning has typically been insufficient and the result has been damaged reputations all round.
2. GRG concept
The idea of establishing specialist units to deal with unusual situations has a lot to recommend it. However, as the GRG Report shows, separating out a specialist set of activities, in this case restructuring, absolutely doesn't absolve firms from the obligation to treat customers fairly and on their merits.
3. Valuing dissent
I remember very clearly the controversy and scepticism that surrounded the twin reports of Laurence Tomlinson and Andrew Large when they were published in November 2013.
Although RBS quickly commissioned a report into the most serious allegations - Clifford Chance's subsequent report, on a narrow scope, found no evidence of the worst alleged behaviour - it's not hard to argue that the bank should have taken the two reports, in their entirety, more seriously than they did.
It's difficult for organisations under pressure to value dissenting voices, but that's usually when it's most important to do so.
Meetings and committees are often seen as wasteful in modern organisations, and it's telling that SM&CR focuses on individual over collective decision making.
Yes, governance is frustratingly hard to do well, but in this it often mirrors, exposes even, the underlying flaws of the company. Part of the GRG story is its standalone status, detached from normal RBS governance and scrutiny, caught up in its own culture. Finding ways round the difficulties of building good governance rarely helps solve the real problem.
5. Regulatory perimeter
One of the less remarked features of GRG is that many of its activities didn't fall within the regulator's remit. This has clearly affected the FCA's approach, and may have also been an influence on RBS -interest rate swaps (IHRP) is the other obvious example where these factors come together.
Firms often focus less on areas where the regulator doesn't - GRG demonstrates the dangers of this approach. I've written before about the dangers for the regulator of being too literal about the limits of its powers - split capital trusts in the early 2000s is the classic case study. GRG demonstrates the importance of firms taking a wide view of their own responsibilities, in the process eliminating any potential blind spots.
A final thought, GRG pre-dates the new accountabilityregime. How might it play out if it happened now? For another time...
The Treasury Committee (TSC) has published the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA’s) report into RBS’ treatment of small business customers in its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) It took the decision to go ahead with publication under the protection of parliamentary privilege after the FCA was forced to hand over the report last Friday or risk being in contempt of parliament.