FSA asks ex-directors of RBS why it failed

Man walks into RBS Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A number of executives told the FSA - through their lawyers - that they had nothing to say

The Financial Services Authority is only now arranging to interview all of Royal Bank of Scotland's non-executive directors from the era when the bank failed, some two years and eight months after the collapse and rescue of RBS.

There may well be widespread surprise, and criticism, that a number of members of the RBS board from the time of the crash - the biggest banking disaster in the history of the UK - have never been interviewed by the FSA.

This morning I have spoken to two RBS non-executives - both prominent in the business community - who have never had a conversation with the FSA about the collapse of RBS. And they tell me others too haven't been interviewed by the FSA.

Sources have confirmed to me that the FSA has recently approached all of the former non-execs, and dates have been arranged for interviews with them.

The purpose of these interviews is to elicit their views on why RBS collapsed and needed to be rescued with £46bn of investment from taxpayers and £37bn of emergency loans from the Bank of England.

"The first question we're being asked is why the bank failed", said a former non-executive.

I am also told that even the executives who have been interviewed by the FSA weren't originally asked for their views on the causes of the collapse. "I was never asked that question", said one former RBS executive.

This long delay to the gathering of information from those whose primary responsibility was to preserve the health of the bank is due to an important change in the nature of the investigation into RBS being carried out by the FSA.

Rejection letter

Up until last December, the City watchdog's main task was to evaluate whether RBS's directors deserved to be punished for the collapse of the bank.

Since then, in the face of political and public pressure, it has agreed to publish an account of why RBS failed. So it now feels the need to interview anyone who might have material information or relevant opinions on the failure.

There may well be bemusement that the judgement on whether RBS's former employees deserve to be punished didn't require an understanding of why the bank collapsed.

As I wrote in a note this morning, at some point - following a review by the former regulator Sir David Walker - the FSA will publish its assessment of the cause of RBS's woes, along with an evaluation of its own shortcomings as a regulator and supervisor in this instance, and an explanation of why its only punitive response to the case was to voluntarily agree with one former executive, Jonny Cameron, that he would cease to work as a banker.

A couple of the erstwhile non-executives also said to me that they regarded it as odd that the FSA has apparently interviewed RBS's controversial chief executive from that era, Sir Fred Goodwin, on only a single occasion.

"It doesn't really make sense" said a former non-executive. "You would have thought the FSA would have needed to see him on a number of occasions, in order to understand what happened".

Mr Cameron has spoken to the FSA on a number of occasions.

An FSA source told me that back in 2009 it wrote to all the non-executives asking them if they had anything they wished to communicate to the FSA about the governance of RBS. "A number of them told us through their lawyers that they had nothing to say", he said.

The FSA did not follow up these rejections of its invitations to supply information, at least not until very recently.

In the months before RBS collapsed, it had ten non-executive directors and a part-time chairman, Sir Tom McKillop.

The non-execs were Colin Buchan, Jim Currie, Bill Friedrich, Archie Hunter, Charles 'Bud' Koch, Janis Kong, Joe MacHale, Sir Steve Robson, Bob Scott, and Peter Sutherland.