The pursuit of criminal changes in the U.K. against National Westminster Bank PLC (NatWest) for money laundering failings highlights the risk posed by governance lapses in the banking sector, says Fitch Ratings.
On Thursday, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced that NatWest pled guilty to three criminal charges stemming from violations of anti-money-laundering (AML) rules involving a corporate client between 2012 and 2016.
“In pleading guilty, NatWest acknowledges relevant operational failures,” the bank said in a release. “This included weaknesses in some of the bank’s automated systems as well as certain shortcomings in adherence to monitoring and investigations procedures.”
The bank will be sentenced in Southwark Crown Court sometime in the next four to eight weeks.
Fitch said it expects the bank to receive a fine of between £200 million and £400 million, which would not be material to the bank — but there could be broader implications for its operations in foreign markets.
“We believe the risk of any of the bank’s licences being revoked due to the finding of criminal guilt is small and do not expect the resulting reputational damage to significantly affect the bank’s strong franchise in the U.K.,” Fitch said.
“However, it remains to be seen whether foreign authorities, particularly in the U.S., will apply restrictions to limit dealings with [NatWest],” it added.
Moreover, the rating agency said the case highlights the risks banks face from governance failings.
“Breaches of anti-money-laundering regulations are emerging more frequently in many jurisdictions as regulators step up their focus on the issue,” it said.
NatWest said it fully cooperated with the FCA’s investigation, and doesn’t expect any charges against any individual employees nor additional enforcement action in the case.
The bank also said it has invested £700 million over the past five years in its financial crime controls and systems, and that it expects to spend a further £1 billion over the next five years.
“In the years since this case, we have invested significant resources and continue to enhance our efforts to effectively combat financial crime,” said NatWest CEO, Alison Rose, in a statement.