Barclays has opened its doors to a small business lobby group that hopes regular meetings with some of the UK’s largest banks will help avoid another major scandal like the HBOS Reading case.
The SME Alliance – a small business group that lobbies for fair treatment by banks and advisers – told the Press Association it will hold quarterly meetings with Barclays in what is expected to kickstart a raft of regular engagements with British lenders.
The group has also approached Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) about holding meetings, and agreed with Lloyds Banking Group to do the same once all the cases linked to fraud at HBOS Reading are closed.
It is understood that Lloyds and SME Alliance are in regular dialogue already in regards to HBOS Reading matters.
SME Alliance representatives will hold their first sit-down with a senior executive of Barclays’ business banking unit on October 10.
While Barclays has not been plagued with the same small business scandals that have affected peers such as Lloyds and RBS, the move is notable given the lobby group’s efforts to expose fraud at some of the UK’s largest lenders.
“We’re not just going in to say, ‘You’re terrible banks and look at this and look at that. We need a genuine dialogue with the banks because… if we can’t put things across to them in a non-litigious way then we’re never really going to get off the ground, we’re never going to stop this them and us (mentality),” SME Alliance founder and director Nikki Turner told the Press Association.
Mrs Turner is best known for spearheading a report back in 2009 that is credited with uncovering fraud at HBOS in Reading and helping put some of its bankers in jail.
That case led to corrupt financiers being jailed over a £245 million loans scam, which destroyed several businesses and saw profits squandered on high-end prostitutes and luxury holidays.
HBOS was acquired by Lloyds Banking Group at the height of the financial crisis.
The SME Alliance founder is also the mastermind behind a fresh probe into RBS’s treatment of small firms by its now-defunct Global Restructuring Group (GRG).
A team from the lobby group is now working on the RBS GRG report, which will feature a raft of case studies that they hope will help the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) take disciplinary action against the bank.
That is despite the FCA concluding last month that GRG’s activities were not within its remit, and that action against senior management in the GRG for lack of fitness and propriety “would not have reasonable prospects of success”.
Mrs Turner said she has also been holding meetings with FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey.
“We do talk to the FCA, we have to keep channels open, we’re firm believers in keeping doors open because you can’t resolve things if you don’t talk to people,” she said.
When asked whether she expects quarterly meetings with banks will help avoid another HBOS Reading or RBS GRG case, Mrs Turner seemed hopeful.
“Who knows, I mean I would hope so. I think we and the bank are kind of in a sort of suck it and see, let’s just see how it goes. All communication is good, if it’s not litigation,” she said.
A spokesman for Barclays said: “Dialogue with other organisations is an important part of what we do in society and it helps us support businesses effectively.
“We have a positive relationship with the SME Alliance and look forward to meeting them again soon.”
Lloyds said: “Talking to SMEs and understanding how we can work with them to support their success is a fundamental part of the way we work with our customers.
“We welcome all input and suggestions to ensure the service we provide our customers in this critical part of the British economy continues to help them prosper.”
RBS declined to comment.