Regulators fine global banks $4.3 billion in currency investigation

Wed Nov 12, 2014 4:24pm EST
 
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By Kirstin Ridley, Joshua Franklin and Aruna Viswanatha

LONDON/ZURICH/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Regulators fined six major banks a total of $4.3 billion for failing to stop traders from trying to manipulate the foreign exchange market, following a yearlong global investigation.

HSBC Holdings Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc, UBS AG and Bank of America Corp all faced penalties resulting from the inquiry, which has put the largely unregulated $5-trillion-a-day market on a tighter leash, accelerated the push to automate trading and ensnared the Bank of England.

Authorities accused dealers of sharing confidential information about client orders and coordinating trades to boost their own profits. The foreign exchange benchmark they allegedly manipulated is used by asset managers and corporate treasurers to value their holdings.

Dealers used code names to identify clients without naming them and swapped information in online chatrooms with pseudonyms such as "the players", “the 3 musketeers” and “1 team, 1 dream." Those who were not involved were belittled, and traders used obscene language to congratulate themselves on quick profits made from their scams, authorities said.

Wednesday's fines bring total penalties for benchmark manipulation to more than $10 billion over two years. Britain's Financial Conduct Authority levied the biggest penalty in the history of the City of London, $1.77 billion, against five of the lenders.

"Today's record fines mark the gravity of the failings we found, and firms need to take responsibility for putting it right," FCA Chief Executive Officer Martin Wheatley said.

He said bank managers needed to keep a closer eye on their traders rather than leaving it to compliance departments, which make sure employees follow the rules.

The investigation already has triggered major changes to the market. Banks have suspended or fired more than 30 traders, clamped down on chatrooms and boosted their use of automated trading. World leaders are expected to sign off on regulatory changes to benchmarks this weekend at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.   Continued...

 
A man walks past various currency signs, including the dollar (top R), Australian dollar (top L), pound sterling (centre L) and euro (bottom L), outside a brokerage in Tokyo October 28 2014.  REUTERS/Yuya Shino