Sunday 16 December 2018

Charlie Weston: How rogue lenders are finally being brought to heel

Derville Rowland Director General of Financial Conduct Central Bank. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Derville Rowland Director General of Financial Conduct Central Bank. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Some tough talking has been going on behind the scenes between banks and their regulators of late.

The banks have had to get used to the fact that all of a sudden the game has changed. The Central Bank has hardened its stance on the tracker issue.

Following sustained criticism of what was perceived as a softly, softly approach, which led to dressing-downs for Central Bankers from TDs and senators on the Oireachtas Finance Committee, a new steely approach has been taken.

It is not before time. A year ago, Central Bank Governor Philip Lane was forced to ask for a short adjournment when he appeared before the same Finance Committee as he was not briefed to answer questions on the tracker scandal.

Committee members claimed the Central Bank was being bullied by lenders on the tracker mortgage issue.

A year to the day later, banks have found out to their cost that they are no longer in charge. No more is the tail wagging the dog.

What has changed is the emergence of a tough-as-nails Castlebar woman taking charge of the tracker examination - now the largest overcharging scandal in the history of the State.

Derville Rowland is no push-over, as the banks have begun to discover. The West of Ireland warrior, who trained as a regulatory lawyer in England, will not take no for an answer when she believes the banks can do more to restore people wrongfully denied a tracker, or put on the wrong tracker rate.

And Ms Rowland, who has the role of director general of financial conduct, has the legal training to stand up to the guff they are throwing at her as they attempt to wriggle out of their responsibilities and deny their customers the duty of care they owe them.

She has dragged bank chief executives and chairmen into the Central Bank's plush offices in Dublin's Docklands for a dressing-down. Some of this has gone down very badly in the banks, especially for those lenders whose chairmen are based outside the country.

Ms Rowland's efforts are working. In the space of three months, the banks have admitted to a doubling of the cases affected by the great tracker scam.

We are now at 33,700 cases. Banks have now owned up to an additional 13,600 cases since the last update for those affected was issued by the Central Bank in September.

The total number who lost homes has risen from 23 to 37, with another 79 buy-to-lets sold due to tracker overcharging.

There will be more cases, but it is thought that most of them have been identified.

Now the messy stuff starts. Most banks are braced for fines of up to €10m, or up to 10pc of their revenues. The latter could amount to as much as €300m for the bigger banks.

And Ms Rowland and her team have engaged criminal lawyers to see if individuals who made decisions in banks to steal trackers from customers can be pursued in the criminal courts.

It may not be possible to prove criminal acts took place, but at least this shows it is nicey-nicey no more for the banks on the tracker issue.

Irish Independent

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