Citigroup strugglesto monitor UK traders

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LONDON: In 2017, after Citigroup Inc had paid billions of dollars in fines for rigging interest rates, manipulating currency markets and selling shoddy mortgage bonds, the Wall Street giant was still struggling to keep tabs on traders in London.

Managers overseeing Citigroup’s European trading hub had hundreds of blind spots, allowing for potentially abusive transactions to go unnoticed in the almost 900,000 trades processed every day at the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters, according to a report from the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The shortcomings carried on for at least two years, enough time for the traders to generate about £2.6bil (US$3.1bil or RM14bil) in revenue, the report showed.

Internal compliance teams found that their surveillance systems missed almost half of the second-most serious category of trading risk, the FCA said as it imposed a £12.6mil (RM67mil) penalty on New York-based Citigroup on Friday.

Officials couldn’t effectively monitor trading activities for potential insider dealing and spoofing until early 2018, the regulator said.

Citigroup chief executive officer (CEO) Jane Fraser, who oversees one of the world’s biggest investment banks, is under pressure to improve controls after multiple probes revealed what regulators have said are substantial problems.

The Bank of England levied a record £44mil (RM233mil) fine on the lender in 2019 for years of inaccurate reporting about its capital and liquidity levels, while US regulators doled out a US$400mil (RM1.8bil) fine in 2020 for persistent problems with risk management.

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Hong Kong’s securities regulator fined it HK$348.3mil (RM199mil) earlier this year for “dishonest” stock trading over a decade.

“This fine is indicative of Citigroup’s troubled past and the ways its failures so often come back to haunt it,” said Kathryn Judge, a law professor focused on finance at Columbia University in New York.

“It helps to justify the changes that Fraser is seeking to implement.”

Rekha Jogia-Soni, a spokeswoman for Citigroup in London, said the bank is “pleased to put this matter behind us”.

Integrity in financial markets depends on a partnership between the FCA and banks using data to detect suspicious trading, Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the regulator, said in a statement.

Citigroup “did not carry its full weight in this partnership,” he said.

In January 2018, when Citigroup’s compliance teams scrambled to assess the effectiveness of its automatic surveillance systems, they discovered that they had no oversight of almost half of what they called tier two trading risks.

The surveillance gaps occurred across some of the bank’s largest trading businesses including rates and commodities.

The multiple shortcomings convinced Citigroup that it was not in compliance with European market-abuse laws, which the UK implemented in 2016.

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