The Financial Services Authority is to start a full review of interest rate swap mis-selling.
It confirmed this morning that Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS will start the full review of their sales of interest rate hedging products (IRHPs) to small businesses.
Up to 40,000 small businesses, including an estimated 8,000 hospitality firms, are thought to have been sold the complex financial products, designed to protect against rising interest rates.
In some cases, products were designed so that banks covered the cost of increased payments in the event of interest rate rises while the customer had to pay the bank in the event that rates fell. Most customers bought the products before the Bank of England base rate dropped to 0.5% in March 2009. As a result, many have seen their payments to banks rise, even though interest rates themselves have fallen.
In June last year, the FSA announced that it had found serious failings in the sale of IRHPs.
Today's announcement means that these banks have agreed to work on reviewing individual sales and providing "fair and reasonable" redress to customers based on principles outlined in today's FSA report, and overseen by independent reviewers.
The decision comes after a long-awaited pilot review of sales carried out by the banks and the independent reviewers. The pilot was established to allow the FSA to consider the banks' proposed approaches to reviewing sales and to ensure they would deliver the right outcome for customers.
The FSA considered files containing all the evidence on individual sales of IRHPs, together with the bank's and the independent reviewer's assessment of each file. Evidence from customers has also been very important in assessing sales, the FSA said. I
"The work on the pilot has confirmed the FSA's initial findings of mis-selling of IRHPs," the fianncial watchdog said. "The FSA looked at 173 sales to non sophisticated customers and found that over 90% of the sales did not comply with at least one or more regulatory requirement. A significant proportion of these 173 cases are likely to result in redress being due to the customer. However, the small number of typically more complex cases in the sample may not be representative of all IRHP sales."
The FSA has also revised the eligibility criteria of the review scheme, to ensure that it is focused on those small businesses that were unlikely to understand the risks associated with those products. This might include, for example, bed and breakfast businesses which would previously have been ineligible due to their large numbers of seasonal workers. At the same time, some businesses that fell under the criteria published last June will be excluded. These include, for example, small subsidiaries of multi-national corporations, or Special Purpose Vehicles that are sophisticated enough to have understood the terms of the product or have sufficient resources to obtain advice.
Martin Wheatley, CEO designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, said: "This marks significant progress in our review of these products. We believe that our work will ensure a fair and reasonable outcome for small and unsophisticated businesses.
"Small businesses will now see the result of the review as the banks look at their individual cases. Where redress is due, businesses will be put back into the position they should have been without the mis-sale. But it is important to remember that this review is firmly focused on the particular circumstances of each sale. These will determine whether there were failings in the sales process and, if so, whether redress is due."
The FSA has also been reviewing sales of IRHPs by Allied Irish Bank (UK), Bank of Ireland, Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, Co-Operative Bank, and Santander UK and said it aimed to be able to confirm that these banks can launch their reviews by 14 February.