BBRS SME Liaison Panel
Held virtually and at BBRS offices 0945 – 1205 on Monday 19 December 2022
SME Liaison Panel:
- Antony Townsend (AT), Chair
- Tony Baron (TB)
- Mark Bishop (MB)
- Heather Buchanan (HB)
- Nish Kotecha (NK)
- Andy Keats (AK), acting as Nikki Turner’s alternate
- Katie Matthews (KM)
Apologies: Caroline Barr (CB), Bank Liaison Panel Chair; Diana Chrouch (DC)
- Dirk Paterson (DP), Customer Director
- Ethan Kelly (EK), Corporate Communications Manager
- Sally Berlin (SB), Chief Adjudicator
- Michael Robinson (LG), Deputy Director of Operations
- Chris Moore (Secretary)
1. Opening remarks from the Chair
The Chair will report on developments since the last meeting.
- PIR Part 2 Publication
- Update on rule changes
- SME Panel recruitment
AT welcomed Panel members. He firstly covered the PIR Part 2 process. He explained that he put the SME LP evidence to the Review team, including the annexe of scheme rule changes. He also pressed the Review team to consider the quality of the work done by the BBRS, which he determined to be an important consideration.
AT stated that he was anxious that the SME LP were ready to respond to the report when published. It was important to see where the Review team had addressed the points raised and identify other areas where it may have fallen short of addressing the points raised. AT said that he was seeking to get a framework to do this in place by the New Year in time for receipt of the report.
DP confirmed that several the Panel members had participated in interviews. DP confirmed that he expected for the report to be published the w/c 9th January. AT remarked that this meant that the framework would need to be in place by the early New Year.
ACTION: AT to share the framework and convene the team in the early New Year to consider it.
AT then updated the Panel on the discussions held with UK Finance and bank delegates about the rule change proposal. He stated that it was a cordial meeting and was broadly constructive. There was a large degree of sympathy for the proposal to remove the rule which required the consent of the Insolvency Practitioner for a complaint about a liquidated company. The banks had emphasised the importance of the Concessionary case route to support cases which were not eligible. AT pointed out that c.75% of these cases have not been taken forward by the banks. A key question was how the BBRS eligibility interfaces with the Financial Ombudsman Service. On the back of the discussion, it is with the Panel to come to UK Finance and the banks with a further view on this.
AT raised that the capacity of the Panel was constrained and that the BBRS had stated a temporary recruitment freeze was in place whilst discussions about the scheme beyond 2023 take place. AT stated that this was frustrating and that he had raised concerns to the BBRS’ Leadership. As a result, the BBRS have agreed to fund legal work to an agreed amount in order that AT can procure a lawyer to provide input, The Panel questioned whether the support would be sufficient, and AT stated that it would for this initial piece of work whilst recruitment for permanent members was on hold. Two members recommended the same lawyer and AT thanked them and said he would reach out.
After comments by the Panel, AT said he would raise the point that the Terms of Reference enables the Chair to propose members and that the BBRS approves the appointment unless they consider that they do not have the appropriate expertise to contribute to the overall objectives of the Panel, or diversity of its membership.
MB stated that it was a concerning situation and asked AT to raise the decision again with BBRS Leadership considering the SME LP ToR. He added that the lawyer selected should not have conflicts through prior work with the BBRS or the banks.
ACTION: AT to progress the procurement of a lawyer to support the rule change work and additionally discuss the SME LP ToR with the BBRS.
2. Advice is sought on case volume following update on latest statistics
MR introduced himself to members he had not met before and presented an overview of the latest operational dashboard.
AK asked whether FOS referrals were primarily historical or contemporary. MR said there was a mixture.
MR then talked about the data relating to formal answers and the data regarding reasons for ineligibility.
AK asked why the BBRS was not yet reporting on settlements and whether this was due to banks having concerns in this area. MR said that the BBRS team are deciding how to publish the data. MB highlighted that the panel had before asked about the publication of financial awards. DP said he would take this away and update the Panel in January.
MR reported that some non-financial awards included changing the exit fee arrangements of lending, changing customer loan terms, and discharging individuals from personal guarantees. The panel were supportive of the impact of these instances and stated that they were keen to see aggregated data on financial and non-financial awards.
AK emphasised that the figures for financial awards are important and there were complainants who had been seeking recompense.
DP stated that customer satisfaction with awards was not always linked with the quantum of award. The BBRS was a resolution service and not a compensation scheme and that non-financial awards and customer satisfaction were also important.
Some members supported this point. AT urged the BBRS to progress the data and report back to the Panel by the end of January.
ACTION: BBRS team to advise AT on the publication of data about financial awards by the end of January.
MR asked the Panel to consider if they of any complainants who may come to the BBRS before the Historical scheme deadline, either as re-registrations or new registrations. AK asked why complainants would do this and MR explained that some registrants never progressed their cases far enough to see if they were eligible or in some instances could have cases suitable to be put forward as concessionary cases.
MB asked whether the BBRS was looking at redundancy of staff considering the imminent closure of the Historical scheme, but also because the discussions with the banks about rule changes were ongoing. DP said it was not appropriate to comment on HR matters but stated that CEDR have a flexible resource model that can flex to increased and reduced demand as needed.
3. Advice is sought on accessibility to the BBRS following accessibility changes to the website including the accessibility tool
DP explained that changes had been made to make the BBRS website more accessible. He thanked DC for her excellent work in this area. He explained that chatbots, campaign material and banners are being used to enable more targeted audience reach under the mantra of “leaving no stone unturned.”
KM stated that it was good to see the changes and added it was important that accessibility was built into policy. She asked whether the chatbots could respond in different languages.
AK said that Contemporary companies were likely to be large as the Financial Ombudsman Service covers over 99% of UK companies. DP said that the BBRS is designed to dovetail with the Financial Ombudsman Service. He asked the Panel to advise as to whether there were bodies that the BBRS could contact to promote its services.
MB said it was good to get as many complainants as possible to the scheme, but highlighted concerns about the social media monitoring activity which the BBRS undertakes.
DP explained the rationale for using political monitoring and explained that any social media aggregation of publicly posted information about the service was normal industry practice. Other panel members said that this may be a red herring and that the question is a wider question of social media regulation. AT asked that MB shares his concerns for consideration.
TB suggested that the HMRC website could be a useful source to link to the services of the BBRS. He said that early resolution of complaints was especially important via Conciliation and Mediation. He also suggested that the banks should give the BBRS and indication of volume upstream so the service could understand demand more fully. He finally suggested that he does not think there are many more Historical complaints that are likely to be brought forward because Historical complainants may be unwilling to return to the pain experienced in the past, and that the early experiences of the BBRS eligibility process have been off-putting for some.
DP thanked TB and said he would follow up on the HMRC suggestion. MR said that the banks inform all business customers via complaint outcome letters that they may be eligible for the Financial Ombudsman Service or the BBRS Contemporary scheme.
KM said that the BBRS should consider signposting to appropriate mental health services. DP thanked KM for the suggestion and asked if KM could make recommendations.
ACTION: DP to follow up with KM about organisations which could be signposted to on the BBRS website and the possible HMRC link.
4. Advice is sought on how to reach more customers, following update on the marketing campaign
SB was welcomed to the meeting by the Chair.
SB started by saying that progress is moving in the right direction. It was encouraging to see settlements via conciliation accompanying a rise in adjudication decisions, including for some cases which were not eligible. The fact that a complaint was made to the BBRS has encouraged the banks to look at the issue through a different lens.
The top four issues through both schemes are fraud, loans, personal guarantees, and property valuation. Further review of these will be undertaken because the historical complaints may teach us about the future, and contemporary complaints remain relevant for policy and regulatory stakeholders, as well as for the banks.
NK said that personal guarantees are a major issue, and he has recent experience of a member bank asking him for one. He also has wider examples from his network. Broadly banks do not explain the terms and introduce the concept of a personal guarantee early when discussing lending finance before it becomes part of the terms down the line.
The Panel remarked that banks were not considering business equity as a form of investment or guarantee. It was also important that an individual’s primary residence was not targeted as part of the guarantee. Unfortunately, there are many personal guarantees and they can have a pervasive and toxic nature. Numerous examples were cited by the members.
AK highlighted that there are instances of fraud in this space. SB said that the BBRS has not seen any instances in the cases which have been looked at. If any instances are discovered, then they will raise the allegations appropriately.
MB said that the situation is caused by two primary factors. Firstly, all banks operate similarly and require personal guarantees. Secondly, equity alternatives are not pursued. He noted the power asymmetry since bankers do not sign personal guarantees.
TB added that instances where overdraft limits are changed, and personal guarantees are in place are particularly troublesome for businesses. In these circumstances banks should not be able to exercise them at the point an overdraft facility is reduced.
SB rounded off the discussion by saying that the BBRS are sharing insights with the Lending Standards Board.
SB went on to say that she has been speaking with the Insolvency Practitioners Association about understanding the issues caused by Dissolved Complainant Waivers to support more complainants with dissolved companies progressing complaints.
HB questioned the legal locus in which an insolvency practitioner could sign a Dissolved Complainant Waiver and outlined frustration that the rules of the BBRS are constituted in this way. These frustrations were echoed by several members.
5. Advice is sought on the impact of the economic crisis on future banking complaints, following update on economic stress work
DP explained that as the Historical scheme was due to close in mid-February consideration is being given to potential volumes. The Contemporary scheme is currently due to end at the end of December ’23. As a result, the BBRS has commissioned a piece of research to look at the complaint environment in circumstances of future potential economic stress.
TB shared that the Federation of Small Businesses is already looking at this matter and thinks the time of greatest danger is toward the end of the recession when working capital needs increase and cash reserves have been depleted. There was no time for a statutory body to be in place to manage this and because of this timing it was important that the BBRS was in place beyond the December ’23 date cited.
AK stated that prior to the BBRS there were 600-800 unresolved Historical complaints and this remains the case. If the BBRS is not able to resolve them then a vehicle for independent review would be sought.
AT thanked members and the BBRS team and drew the meeting to a close.
Meeting ended c.12:05pm