These are grim times for the financial services sector, without much sign of light at the end of the tunnel.
The harsh reality is reflected in this month’s crop of mostly negative stories.
We start with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which, according to a report in Computerworld UK, is taking drastic measures to cut costs.
In an email leaked to the BBC, chief financial officer (CFO) Chris Kyle announced 11 money-saving initiatives, including a freeze on hardware and software spend for the remainder of the year.
“RBS employees will not get any approvals for new telecoms equipment, such as BlackBerrys and headsets, and the bank wants to cut costs of market data by putting a ban on ‘new premium terminal spend’ for the rest of the year and cancelling non-essential information services,” the report says.
It adds that contractors and technical specialists will be required to have two weeks off at Christmas and staff entertainment budgets “have been pulled for the rest of the year”.
CFO World reports that both RBS and Lloyds have had their credit ratings cut by the global ratings agency Fitch.
The decision, which followed a similar announcement by Moody’s, was based on concerns that “the part-nationalised banks have become less likely to receive a further bailout in the event of a crisis.”
Fitch also placed Barclays Bank on “rating watch negative,” a signal that it too might be downgraded.
The Financial Times reports on the new capital regime for banks.
Under the scheme agreed by EU leaders, 70 European banks will need more than €100bn in capital by the end of next June to make them safe.
None of the banks is British, though RBS has already been bailed out to the tune of £45bn. David Cameron, the paper reports, “believes that a new round of European bank stress tests, an essential ingredient in tackling the eurozone debt crisis, will not require any new capital
to be pumped into state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland.”
The paper also reports on the decision by Barclays Bank to write down the value of its stake in BlackRock, the US fund manager, after the firm’s share price fell sharply.
The £1.8bn write-down was offset, however, by a £3bn gain on the values of the bank’s own debt, the FT says.
While pre-tax profits in the three months to September were 20% lower than the previous quarter, they were slightly higher than profits in the same period last year.
The FT report also reveals that the bank managed to reduce its sovereign debt exposure to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and Greece by 31 per cent to £8bn in the third quarter of this year.
A story in CIO says that the Co-operative Banking Group (CBG) is tackling inefficiency by re-engineering its accounting processes.
As part of its Financial Transformation Programme, the bank is installing a new centralised Teradata data warehouse, which will integrate credit risk and accounting data.
The new warehouse will “act as a foundation for credit risk and accounting based business intelligence”.
The news for the bank’s customers has been less cheerful, however – CIO reports that after a weekend software upgrade early in October, some customers were unable to use their debit cards for some transactions.
The problem, which was solved within a few days, affected about 5,000 customers.
More money-saving measures from Aviva, which, according to the FT, intends to cut half its workforce in Ireland after completing a review of the costs and profitability of its operations in the country.
The company is planning the loss of 950 jobs, including, the paper reports, 180 positions “from what originally had been meant to form the central office of a new holding company for its broader European non-life operations.”
Igal Mayer, Aviva’s chief executive, said the group would bring the UK and Irish businesses closer together, using more of the technology and infrastructure from the UK to improve the profitability of its operation in Ireland.
CIO reports some good news for the UK banking sector as a whole: online banking fraud losses in the UK fell 32 per cent in the first half of this year. The story came courtesy of two organisations: the UK Cards Association and Financial Fraud Action UK.
The reason for the drop, according to a Financial Fraud Action UK spokeswoman, was partly that banks were issuing security devices to their customers that generated one-off passcodes, and partly that consumers themselves were more aware of the need for computer security.
Meanwhile, a blog at The Economist reports that HSBC is asking its employees to cut travel costs. The story, based on a speech by HSBC’s travel manager to the Business Travel Conference, lacks details of how the company intends to achieve the cost reduction, however.
Citigroup is planning to implement a workflow and trading platform from Fidessa for its derivatives business globally, according to a story in Computerworld UK.
“The bank has contracted a fully-managed service from Fidessa, to support a new system from the vendor offering full order management and routing, low-latency trade execution, and risk management,” the report says.
Computerworld UK also reveals that Citigroup’s CEO, Vikram Pandit, had been the victim of a security breach when the hacker group CabinCr3w placed his home address, mobile phone number and family information on the web.
The group put out a statement to say they had published the data online in response to the recent anti-bank protests on Wall Street, during which, the group said, protesters who had tried to close their Citibank accounts were arrested by police.
Finally, Bupa is to sell its life, income and critical illness insurance business to Resolution for £165m, the FT reports. Bupa said it was selling the unit “as part of a strategic refocus on healthcare products and services.”
Resolution was founded to pursue deals in the UK life sector. Last year it bought Friends Provident and more recently it acquired most of Axa’s UK life assurance and savings arm, the paper says.