NatWest triples profit despite taking money laundering hit

LONDON (Reuters) – NatWest tripled its profit in the third quarter as Britain’s resurgent economy lifted its finances, despite setting aside cash for an expected fine for money laundering failings.

FILE PHOTO: People maintain social distance while they queue outside a Natwest bank in Wimbledon, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

State-backed NatWest reported a pre-tax profit for the July-September period of 1.1 billion pounds ($1.52 billion), better than the 677 million pounds average of analyst forecasts and up from 355 million pounds a year ago.

The bank took a 294 million pound litigation and conduct charge, which includes a provision for an anticipated fine after pleading guilty this month to failing to prevent the laundering of nearly 400 million pounds between 2012 and 2016.

NatWest said it would not disclose the exact provision for the fine, which will ultimately be determined at a sentencing expected in December, as court proceedings are ongoing.

NatWest’s profit rise follows bumper quarterly earnings from rivals Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds this month, as Britain’s economic rebound from pandemic lockdowns boosted profits.

All were lifted by the release of bad loan reserves, with NatWest unlocking 242 million pounds.

NatWest became the first lender to admit criminal offences under a 2007 money laundering law, in an embarrassing setback to Chief Executive Alison Rose’s attempts to clean up the image of Britain’s biggest business bank, including a rebrand from the scandal-tainted Royal Bank of Scotland name.

The Financial Conduct Authority said NatWest failed to monitor suspect activity by a client that deposited about 365 million pounds over five years, including 264 million in cash.

A lawyer for the FCA told Westminster Magistrates’ Court earlier this month the bank could face a potential penalty of around 340 million pounds.

NatWest has said it deeply regrets failing to prevent the money laundering and it has invested 700 million pounds over five years in prevention systems.

The FCA said it will not take action against current or former bank employees, a decision questioned by lawmakers.

OUTLOOK IMPROVED

NatWest said while the overall economic outlook had improved, risks remained.

“Although we are seeing challenges in the economy and for our customers – especially around supply chains and the cost of living – a number of key indicators remain positive; growth is good, unemployment is low and there are limited signs of default across our book,” Rose said.

Unlike Barclays, whose results were boosted by a bumper investment banking performance, NatWest’s trading business lost 160 million pounds in the quarter amid thin fixed income trading.

NatWest said it no longer expected to hit its target of cutting NatWest Markets’ risk-weighted assets to 20 billion pounds this year.

($1 = 0.7253 pounds)

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