British Banking Culture Exposed as MPs Grill Contrite UBS Executives

Terry Flanagan

A culture of greed and ‘gaming the system’ still appears to be prevalent in the City of London after leading executives at Swiss bank UBS were grilled on banking standards for almost three hours earlier on Wednesday by British MPs.

“These are industry-wide problems,” Andrea Orcel, chief executive of UBS’s investment arm, told MPs at the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards earlier today, which had been set up in the wake of the Libor rate-setting scandal.

“We all got probably too arrogant, too self-convinced that things were correct the way they were—I think the industry has to change. I am convinced that [UBS] has made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more.”

Investor trust remains at a low ebb following a series of financial scandals in 2012, the biggest of which to hit London was the Libor rate-rigging incident in June when Barclays was hit with a record fine of $451 million from regulators in the U.K. and U.S after Britain’s second biggest bank admitted to manipulating Libor from 2005-2009 to the benefit of its derivative positions as well as by a desire to make the bank look stronger during the financial crisis.

Other banks have since been implicated in the scandal, including UBS who last month agreed to pay fines to regulators three times that of Barclays.

UBS’s investment bank also failed to stop former UBS trader Kweku Adoboli, who was jailed for seven years after being found guilty of the biggest fraud in British history, in actions that lost the bank £2.2 billion. While the bank also lost $38 billion in credit derivatives, stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

And in a bid to reduce exposure to riskier trading activities, UBS’s global head of compliance, Andrew Williams, told MPs that it was taking steps to clean up the bank. In October, UBS made the decision to cull 10,000 jobs, mainly from its fixed income division.

“We are going to get out of much of the proprietary side of investment banking and go back to a client-focused model,” he said.

Williams also admitted that 18 of the 40 people directly involved in the attempted Libor interest rate manipulation had been let go, while the third UBS executive to be quizzed by MPs, chief risk officer Philip Lofts, told parliamentarians that the bank is considering buying “more sophisticated surveillance technology” to guard against any future scandal engulfing the firm.

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