Santander exec on brink over training row

One of the top executives at Santander UK is on the brink of leaving Britain’s fifth-biggest bank amid a row which has left colleagues complaining that he is a victim of “double standards” in its boardroom.

Sky News has learnt that Mike Ellwood‎, the managing director for corporate banking, is this weekend negotiating the terms of his exit from the Spanish-owned lender.

‎Mr Ellwood, who has worked for Santander since 2009, when he joined from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), is said to have asked his secretary to complete a compulsory training module on his behalf.

The training course, which senior executives have to undertake annually as part of the bank’s regulatory requirements, is said to be routine, and there is no suggestion that Mr Ellwood sought any personal gain from not undertaking the programme himself.

The issue is said to have been drawn to the attention of Santander UK’s board, which is chaired by the former Treasury minister Baroness Vadera, as well as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).

It was unclear this weekend whether Mr Ell‎wood’s alleged action is the subject of any external probe, but his treatment has sparked fury among a number of current and former colleagues.

Santander UK has been facing particular scrutiny in recent months because Nathan Bostock, its chief executive, and Chris Sullivan, who runs its corporate and commercial lending activities, were both involved in the management of RBS’s controversial Global Restructuring Group (GRG) unit.

The division, which was supposed to help struggling SMEs return to financial health‎, in many cases hastened their demise by charging them unsustainable fees.

Neither Mr Bostock nor Mr Sullivan have been subjected to any regulatory sanction, even as details of GRG’s treatment of thousands of small business customers emerged from an independent investigation conducted on behalf of the FCA.

Mr Bostock was RBS’s risk chief for several years before briefly becoming its chief financial officer, while Mr Sullivan was in charge of the corporate banking arm in which GRG sat.

The FCA, which has also been criticised for its handling of the crisis surrounding GRG‎, is continuing to conduct an enforcement investigation into the issue.

Although not accused of personal wrongdoing in relation to GRG customers, Mr Sullivan was accused of misleading parliament after a session in front of the Treasury Select Committee during which he insisted that GRG had not been “a profit centre” for RBS in the period after its £45.5bn taxpayer bailout.

Mr Ellwood, who led the structuring of private equity deals during his time at RBS, was not connected to GRG in any formal capacity.

In a statement issued to Sky News, a Santander UK spokesman said:”We do not comment on personnel matters regarding individual members of staff.

“GRG is a matter for RBS and the FCA , not Santander.‎”

‎The conduct of individuals in the banking industry has been thrown into sharper focus by the introduction of the Senior Managers Regime, which was introduced in the wake of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

The new framework is intended to make executives more accountable for their actions.

The most prominent example of an individual’s conduct being scrutinised within the revised ‎parameters is that of Jes Staley, the Barclays chief executive, who is under investigation for his treatment of a whistleblower.

A source close to Santander UK insisted that‎ the case of Mr Ellwood was “serious” but said its investigation had not yet concluded.

They added that it had “absolutely nothing” to do with GRG or RBS.

One person close to Mr Ellwood said, however, that what he had done was “a yellow, not a red, card offence, and had had no impact on customers or colleagues”.

Another senior banker described Santander UK’s response as “an overreaction” and accused it of attempting to appear tough on disciplinary breaches even as it ignored the past responsibilities of other leading executives.

“It’s a flagrant case of double standards,” they added.

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