The Royal Bank of Scotland welcomed a report it commissioned by Clifford Chance which found “no evidence” that it tried to systematically defraud small firms, whilst others condemned it as a “whitewash”.

CEO Ross McEwan said: “We could not let this allegation hang over us. That’s why we acted quickly to appoint Clifford Chance to get to the truth of this claim. We are determined to earn back the trust of our customers.”

The report was commissioned in response to allegations in entrepreneur Lawrence Tomlinson’s report, who accused it of “killing off” small firms managed by its GRG business turnaround unit by adding on fees or pulling lines of credit.

According to Tomlinson, the GRG unit would “manage” firms that weren’t even struggling with their debts and still drive them under in order to seize the profitable businesses’ assets, normally property, at discount prices.

Clifford Chance’s findings, swiftly welcomed by RBS, were condemned by others as a “whitewash”. Alison Loveday, managing partner at independent law firm, Berg, told HuffPostUK: “Whilst Clifford Chance has called into question some of the practices undertaken by GRG staff, the investigation itself seems to have missed the opportunity to really uncover what was happening in GRG.

“It is also noteworthy that we provided Clifford Chance the opportunity to look at over 150 cases we were aware of, yet they failed to take up that opportunity. Unfortunately this means an opportunity has been missed to obtain the word of customers in disputes, rather than solely rely on that of RBS. Initial feedback from clients is that they are not surprised by the outcome, as they always questioned Clifford Chance’s independence and very much see this as a ‘whitewash’.”

However Tomlinson’s key allegation was not “systematic fraud”, but that RBS ill-treated small firms through its business support division. Clifford Chance’s report seems to endorse many of Tomlinson’s concerns, although they bury it in legalese.

Here are 7 things the Royal Bank of Scotland would rather you didn’t know was in Clifford Chance’s report.

RBS didn’t play by the book in its valuations

The Clifford Chance report reveals that RBS’ internal valuations of businesses were not carried out in accordance with best practise as laid out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, saying: “Internal valuations were not carried out to the standard of the Red Book, but they were undertaken according to set assumptions by qualified surveyors employed by the bank.

RBS may have exploited small firms’ debt levels

Clifford Chance suggested that RBS should revisit a GRG training manual suggested threatening to remove a distressed business’ overdraft as a way to gain “leverage” in negotiations over equity. Or as the report termed it: “using the on-demand nature of the overdraft as a point of leverage in negotiations of equity upsides when the customer is not in breach of its facilities but the business may be experiencing underperformance against expectations/forecasts. But the firm didn’t pass judgement, saying: “The circumstances win which it is appropriate for a bank to remove or to warn a customer that it will remove an overdraft are beyond the scope of this report”.

Even Clifford Chance couldn’t understand RBS’ fees

“We found it difficult to understand how the bank calculated the fees which it proposed to customers in any particular case and therefore found it difficult to assess allegations of unfairness,” Clifford Chance write. Not a ringing endorsement for a report into how fairly businesses were treated by RBS.

Some perfectly profitable businesses got RBS ‘support

Clifford Chance “identified a number of other cases where a customer had been transferred to BRG [Business Restructuring Group] without an event of default having occurred.” In short, the firms were not struggling with their loans, but were still deemed to need help.

RBS used fees to ‘encourage’ firms to do things

Clifford Chance found that RBS “sought to encourage or incentivise a specific course of action by the customer through its pricing such as an exit or sale of assets to reduce the customer’s debt.” The law firm decides not to pass moral judgement, saying: “It is difficult for us to say that it is wrong in principle for the bank to use fees as a lever to persuade the customer to follow a particular course of action.”

RBS staff were meant to have an eye on money

Clifford Chance found that the financial contribution from RBS “relationship managers” in the Business Restructuring Group was “clearly an important part of the performance assessment process” and worked towards its “revenue generation/loss avoidance” objective. Individual RBS staff who generated extraordinary amounts of revenue were “highlighted” at appraisal, especially “cases where they had generated strong revenues”. Clifford Chance found that RBS relationship managers were “encouraged to seek upsides” in negotiations, but that they also were made aware of “the need to treat customers fairly.”

And what about West Register?

RBS admitted that the fact that a “damaging perception” of a conflict of interest arose due to fact that the bank was effectively able to buy a business’ property through its West Register vehicle. And so the bank has decided to sell all assets on its books and wind it down. As the report noted; “In December 2012, West Register’s UK property portfolio was valued at £929m. Property acquired from the bank’s UK SME customers totalled approximately £400m, less than half the overall portfolio. Between 2008 and 2013, West Register made acquisitions from 166 SME customers13 at an average of approximately 50% of the original loan value at the date of the transfer to GRG.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/17/rbs-clifford-chance-tomlinson-report_n_5167333.html