World and Nation

British regulator takes partial blame for RBS failure

LONDON — Britain’s financial regulator said Monday that it was partly to blame for the failure of Royal Bank of Scotland, and it proposed new preventive measures, including holding bank executives more accountable for bad decisions.

The proposals are part of a report by the regulator, the Financial Services Authority, into the failure of RBS, the large British lender that was bailed out by the government in 2008 and remains under government control.

The agency concluded that the bank’s failure was a result of a combination of poor decisions by the bank’s management and a lack of adequate regulation by the Financial Services Authority itself.

Several years after the start of the financial crisis, Britain is still fine-tuning its financial regulation and investigating why the government had to bail out three of the country’s largest lenders. Like their rivals elsewhere, British banks are required by new rules to hold more capital, but the report Monday suggested that Britain could take extra steps to help avoid bank failures.

The regulator said previously that even though incorrect decisions were made by top executives, it had not found enough evidence to hold management legally accountable for the bank’s failure. There is no relevant law or regulation that would make the management of a failed bank automatically subject to sanctions, the regulator said in the report.

Chris M. Leslie, a politician in the opposition Labour Party, said it was “astonishing that deeply irresponsible decisions by these bankers could have forced a bailout necessary to save depositors, and yet no enforcement action is brought, and nobody is punished for this.”

To prevent the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the British government injected 45.5 billion pounds ($71 billion) into the bank in exchange for a majority stake. But that stake is now worth 20 billion pounds.

“People want to know why RBS failed and why no one has been punished,” the Financial Services Authority chairman, Adair Turner, said in the report. “This report aims to answer those questions.”

The agency listed six reasons RBS ran into trouble, including the ill-advised takeover of a Dutch rival, ABN Amro. The 49 billion pound deal burdened the company with debt, and ABN Amro’s assets turned out to be of poorer quality than Royal Bank of Scotland’s superficial assessment of its books had indicated. The information provided to RBS by ABN Amro consisted of two binders of paperwork and a CD, the Financial Services Authority report said.