Wed, Nov 07, 2012 - Page 15 News List

UK banks ramp up PPI payments

COSTLY ERROR:British banks are bracing for a big profit hit as analysts say the total bill for compensating the thousands of mis-sold policies may be £15 billion

AFP, LONDON

British banks have ramped up the amount of cash they are setting aside to compensate clients who were mis-sold insurance policies to more than £10 billion (US$16 billion), significantly slashing their profits in the process.

The latest earnings season for major banks wrapped up on Monday, with HSBC announcing it was hiking provisions to compensate customers in Britain who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI).

That brought its provision to £1.3 billion, about one-fifth of the £10 billion total set aside by Britain’s banks, which have also been rocked by humbling state bailouts, money laundering and the LIBOR rate-rigging scandal.

PPI is “turning out to be the most economically damaging crisis, there’s no question about that, but what is probably the most surprising of all is that the banks themselves have been completely unable to determine how much they have to pay,” independent banking analyst Ralph Silva told reporters.

JPMorgan Cazenove estimates that the total bill could hit £15 billion, while the British Financial Services Authority regulator said that customers have together so far received compensation of £6.5 billion for mis-selling going back more than a decade.

British banks last year lost a UK High Court appeal against tighter regulation of PPI, which provides insurance for consumers should they fail to meet repayments on a credit product such as consumer loans, mortgages or payment cards.

PPI became controversial after it was revealed that many customers had been sold it without understanding that the cost was being added to their loan repayments.

British authorities subsequently banned simultaneous sales of PPI and credit products.

“It’s extraordinary that we’ve received our 500,000th complaint about PPI — and despite these record numbers, this mis-selling scandal shows no sign of slowing,” said Natalie Ceeney, chief executive at the Financial Ombudsman Service watchdog.

The additional provision announced on Monday by HSBC contributed to the bank’s net profits tumbling by more than half to £1.5 billion in the third quarter compared with a year earlier.

HSBC was also hurt by an increase in the amount set aside for fines linked to money laundering in the US, to £939 million, and owing to large fluctuations in the value of its own debt.

Rival Barclays PLC and state-rescued lenders Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group last week each announced hikes to their PPI provisions.

Barclays, which recently suffered a boardroom shake-up amid the LIBOR interest rate-rigging scandal, said it had set aside another £700 million to compensate PPI customers.

Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 81 percent owned by the British government after a huge bailout amid the global financial crisis, booked another £400 million hit. Lloyds Banking Group said its new provision would take its total bill for the insurance mis-selling to a staggering £5.3 billion.

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