Senior managers gave the go-ahead for the State Street transition management team to take “undisclosed mark-ups” on bond trades for one of the Middle East’s largest investors, a former employee has claimed.
(December 3, 2012) – A member of State Street’s dismissed transition management team has claimed senior management within the bank approved the practice of taking “undisclosed mark-ups” on client transactions and accused the firm of making him a fall guy.
Edward Pennings, who led the division in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for State Street, told an employment tribunal in London on Friday that he had been informed a group--including David Puth, the firm’s former global head of global markets who left shortly after Pennings and Ian Holden, the former head of agency trading in EMEA for the bank--had approved a business model that would allow the transition management team to make secret profits from clients’ portfolio shuffles.
Pennings told the tribunal that he had been informed by his immediate boss, Ross McLellan who was also dismissed by the company, that the model had been approved and that the client was not to be made aware that mark-ups would be made by the bank.
The tribunal was brought by Pennings in London, who has claimed he was unfairly dismissed by the bank last year after the discovery of the practice that saw the bank repay several million pounds and euros to affected large pension fund investors. State Street maintains Pennings was dismissed for having lied to clients.
To support his case, Pennings said a deal with the $296 billion Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund (SWF), had been the first where the business model was implemented. The model would see State Street buying a bond on the open market, selling it on to its transition management client at a premium and booking the revenue without the client’s knowledge. He said McLellan had told him that the senior group had approved the new model of taking undisclosed mark-ups for the deal.
The lawyer representing State Street at the tribunal denied this was the case, stating that his law firm, Freshfields, had found no evidence such approval had been given. He said the KIA had itself removed a clause from an agreement between the two parties that would have prevented State Street from making this type of revenue. Pennings responded that this was not evidence that the SWF had agreed to the practice, but that it was not fully aware of what the clause meant.
In the autumn of 2011, State Street dismissed several people within the State Street Global Markets division and reshuffled various others over the transition management mark-ups. The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail pension fund and the Irish National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), which was investing pension fund money, were refunded the value of the mark-ups made on their bond portfolio transitions.
At the tribunal Pennings queried why the allegations against him changed from actually taking these undisclosed mark ups to repeatedly lying to the bank’s client, Royal Mail when confronted about the charges.
State Street’s lawyer said that even if the business model had been approved by the higher echelons of the bank, lying to a client warranted a charge of gross misconduct and was a sackable offence.
Pennings retaliated that there had been a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” about the mark-ups. He said: “I thought ‘non-disclosed’ meant non-disclosed. We had never discussed what would happen if a client ever asked about it.”
The Royal Mail contacted Pennings after having engaged consultant Inalytics to analyse the data of the transition. Over the course of several emails, the State Street employee responded that a $1 million overcharge on the US bond portfolio “did not seem right” and he would investigate and revert with information for the fund.
A further $2 million made on the transition of the European bond portfolio was never raised by Pennings, despite a call for full disclosure by Inalytics, State Street’s lawyer said.
Pennings maintained that Inalytics was solely investigating the US bond portfolio due to the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (TRACE), which tracks US bond trades and is not present in Europe. Judge Housego, who was overseeing the tribunal, questioned this point due to the letter from the consulting firm asking for a picture of the “global bond” portfolio. Pennings added, however, that he and other members of the portfolio solutions group had wanted to reveal the full extent of the mark-ups, but had been overruled by senior management. This was refuted by State Street’s legal representative.