The evasions of Clydesdale Bank

The good news is that Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks have been fined £21 million because some of its staff falsified documents to avoid compensating victims who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) – the two banks are part of the same group and owned by National Australia Bank.

But, far from showing clear contrition, Clydesdale Bank in the form of its acting chief executive Debbie Crosbie, resorted to the worst uses of evasive language I have seen – and I seen quite a lot. And it contrasts so vividly with the clarity of the statement from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Intentionally or not, Ms Crosbie’s statement gives the impression she has something to hide.

Responding to the announcement of the fine, she said: “We deeply regret any instance which led to the Financial Ombudsman Service receiving incorrect or incomplete information from us. These practices were not authorised or condoned by the bank. As soon as this issue was discovered, we took immediate steps to to stop it; we made the regulator aware and rapidly introduced strict new monitoring procedures.”

Contrast  this with the words of Georgina Philippou of the FCA; “Clydesdale’s failings were unacceptable and fell well below the standard the FCA expects.”

Lets go through it step by step.

1. The statement starts of with the word “we.” Is this the board, the management, everyone at the bank – or perhaps Crosbie has delusions of royalty.

2. Cosbie only regrets any “instance.” Unfortunately instances cant lead to anything – it is the actions of people – and the FCA are clear that it is the failure of the institution.

3. Note the use of the passive in the second half of Crosbie’s first sentence. “….led to the Financial Ombudsman Service receiving incorrect or incomplete information from us.” It is surely not about the ombudsman receiving this information but someone sending it.

So the first instance in its entirety is a non-apology in that it is an apology for instances which result in someone receiving wrong information. It is utterly meaningless and valueless.

4. The second sentence says that the practices were not condoned by the banks. “Practices” – what a wonderful word to use to describe what the FCA regards as “unacceptable failings.” And look at the way the way she slips into the passive – always a sign for the reader to be on the alert.

5. And note that she says these practices were not condoned by the banks – again that means nothing given the nature of the allegations – does she mean the board, senior management – down to what level of management is she referring to. Again that is an utterly meaningless statement.

6. Then we move on to: “as soon as this issue was discovered.” Yet another example of the contortions she has gone through to avoid using the word “failings.” We have already had “instances” and “practices” and now we have “issue” – her advisers must have spent hours over their Thesaurus to find ways to replace the words “inappropriate policy.”

7. Then she reverts to the use of “we” – again without saying who “we” is. But she – or we – are much keener to be associated with actions taken to deal with the “inappropriate policy” identified by the FCA. They may indeed have taken these actions – all I would point out is that it is a classic defence for organisations that are heavily criticised to say that they have anticipated the report and already taken action to rectify the situation (see almost all of my earlier blogs).

8. And finally there is the reference to the introduction of “new monitoring procedures.” A wonderful word – procedures. It again takes the responsibility away from any individual. Crosbie does not for example say who was responsible for the clearly inadequate old procedures – and who was ultimately responsible for the bank operating to the correct procedures.

So we have 50 words, which contain just about every evasion and avoidance tactic. I cannot understand how anyone would draft a statement that makes their own institution look so deceitful.

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