Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 10 News List

UK banks drop appeal over insurance sales

‘MIS-SELLING’:Barclays and other British banks could end up paying billions for misleading consumers who bought payment protection insurance they couldn’t claim

Reuters and AP, LONDON

Barclays PLC set aside £1 billion (US$1.6 billion) to compensate consumers who were wrongly sold insurance, as British banks as a whole backed down in the fight against accusations of “mis-selling.”

In a fresh blow to an industry already under pressure from UK regulators to clean up its act following the financial crisis, banks said they would not appeal against a ruling requiring them to compensate people for mis-selling payment protection insurance (PPI).

Analysts have said the case could cost banks about £8 billion.

“In the interest of providing certainty for their customers, the banks and the British Bankers’ Association [BBA] have decided that they do not intend to appeal,” the BBA said in a statement yesterday.

Natalie Ceeney, who heads the Financial Ombudsman Service, said the agency had been received up to 5,000 complaints each week from consumers since October.

“We will be working with the banks, over the coming weeks, to ensure that consumers’ complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly,” she said.

The Financial Services Authority [FSA] has told banks that customers must be told if the insurance is optional, and they must be advised of their right to cancel. The agency also said the seller must be sure that the customer is eligible to claim under the policy.

The banks had said the association’s standard should not be applied retrospectively.

Barclays said it would make a £1 billion provision in the second quarter of this year to cover the cost of “future redress and administration” related to PPI mis-selling.

The hit to Barclays comes after rival Lloyds last week unveiled a shock £3.2 billion charge to cover compensation as it became the first to back down after years legal of wrangling.

“This is another negative for the banking sector. It means even more costs for the banks, which were already facing mounting costs on their capital structures,” said John Smith, fund manager at UK investment firm Brown Shipley.

Banks also face higher costs from plans by a government-appointed commission to make them hold more capital and form separate subsidiaries for their retail and investment banking operations, an effort to better protect retail customers and shield the banks in the event of another financial crisis.

Bank overdraft fees also remain in the spotlight after being criticized for being opaque by British Business Secretary Vince Cable and parliament’s Treasury Select Committee.

The payment protection insurance policies were typically taken out alongside a personal loan or mortgage to cover repayments if customers fell ill or lost their jobs.

However, the policies were sold to self-employed or unemployed people who would not have been able to claim and to consumers who did not realize they were taking out a policy, and last month a court ruled the banks were at fault.

Barclays said it had agreed with the FSA regulator to contact customers and to assess the situation.

“We don’t always get things right for our customers; when we get them wrong, we apologize and put them right,” Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond said in a statement.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) said last week it was too early for it to estimate the possible impact but said settling claims could be “material.” Deutsche Bank analysts have said RBS could face a £1 billion provision on the PPI mis-selling.

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