LONDON (Reuters) - The acting head of Britain’s main financial regulator has denied softening her stance, after her decision last month to drop a wide-ranging review into banks’ behaviour sparked concerns about political interference.
Antipathy to banks has surged since some were bailed out with public money after the 2008 credit crisis. Since then global and local scandals including the rigging of currency rates and interest rate benchmarks have led to multi-million pound fines for banks including Barclays (BARC.L) and HSBC.
Tracey McDermott, who has stood in as chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority since regulatory hardliner Martin Wheatley quit prematurely in July, told the BBC that her decision to scrap a review into the banking industry’s culture was not a sign of weakness.
“We’re not going soft on the banks, we’re not being told what to do by the government,” McDermott said in an interview broadcast by the BBC on Saturday.
“If you look at what I’ve been doing in the last six months since I’ve been in the role as chief executive, you’ll see that we have continued to take action against the industry,” she added, citing a 72 million pound fine for Barclays (BARC.L) in December.
But legislators from a parliament committee that monitors Britain’s regulators and bankers have summoned McDermott to appear before them on Jan. 20 to explain why the banking culture review was dropped, and address fears of government pressure.
Declining to reappoint Wheatley, finance minister George Osborne called last year for a “new settlement” with banks as HSBC HSBC.L decides whether to move its head office from Britain.
The BBC also reported that McDermott was considering reversing a 2013 ban on banks paying commission to staff who sell extra products to their retail customers. Many bank customers have won compensation after claiming they had been sold unnecessary insurance and other products.
Osborne is expected to announce a permanent successor to Wheatley in the next few weeks, and on Thursday he said McDermott had decided she did not wish to take the role.
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Ruth Pitchford