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US banking giant fined £126 million

Published 15/04/2015

Banks belonging to the BNY Mellon group - which sponsors the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race title - have been fined by the FCA
Banks belonging to the BNY Mellon group - which sponsors the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race title - have been fined by the FCA

A US banking giant has been fined £126 million by the City regulator for breaking rules designed to protect more than £1 trillion-worth of assets held on behalf of UK-based clients in the event of a Lehman Brothers-style collapse

The Bank of New York Mellon was handed the penalty by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) over failings between November 2007 and August 2013.

It was found to have breached rules in relation to its role as a "custody bank", with the "systemically important" role of keeping assets safe.

The seriousness was compounded by the fact that this took place at a time of "considerable stress in the market".

Failings covered the Bank of New York Mellon London Branch (BNYMLB) and the Bank of New York Mellon International Limited (BNYMIL), which together provide custody services to 6,089 UK-based clients.

During the period of the breaches, they held safe custody asset balances peaking at £1.3 trillion and £236 billion.

Georgina Philippou, FCA acting director of enforcement and market oversight, said: "Our custody rules are in place to ensure that clients are protected in the event of insolvency.

"The firms' failure to comply with our rules including their failure to adequately record, reconcile and protect safe custody assets was particularly serious given the systemically important nature of the firms and the fact that safeguarding assets is core to their business.

"Had the firms become insolvent, the total value of safe custody assets at risk would have been significant.

"This is compounded by the fact that the breaches took place at a time when there was considerable stress in the market."

Rules for custody banks include keeping "entity specific" records and accounts so that in the event of an insolvency these could be used to identify safeguarded assets to be returned to clients.

But the FCA found that instead, the firms used global platforms to manage clients' safe custody assets "which did not record with which BNY Mellon Group entity clients had contracted".

Breaches also included failing to take necessary steps to prevent these safe custody assets being mixed up with other accounts, and on occasion using them to settle other clients' transactions without prior consent.

The FCA said the firms agreed to settle at an early stage of its investigation, meaning they qualified for a 30% discount from the penalty which would otherwise have been £180 million.

The final fine is the eighth biggest to have been imposed by the regulator.

Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the regulator's predecessor, the Financial Services Authority, had written to compliance officers and chief executives highlighting concerns about the management of client assets.

Chief executives were asked to confirm that their firms fully complied with the rules.

BNY Mellon said in a statement that it had "worked co-operatively with the FCA" to address issues related to its compliance with the rules. It said that the fine paid was "fully covered by pre-existing legal reserves".

The statement added: "Importantly, BNY Mellon remained financially robust throughout the relevant period and, as indicated by the FCA in its final notice, no clients suffered any loss as a result of the issues identified."

It said it had launched an internal review with the assistance of an independent accounting firm and external legal advisers "immediately upon learning of these issues" and had now taken "clear steps" to put in place new policies and procedures.

"BNY Mellon is very mindful of the importance of safeguarding client assets and has been trusted by its clients to do so for 230 years.

"This trust could not have been earned without robust regulatory compliance in all of our operating jurisdictions, and we regret in this case that we did not meet our standards or those of the FCA.

"As always, regulatory compliance remains a key area of focus as we maintain our track record of safety and soundness as a financial institution."

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