Saudi and British corporate giants sign $2bn deals

18 economic agreements were signed at the Saudi - UK CEO Forum. (Al-Ekhbariya)
Updated 09 March 2018
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Saudi and British corporate giants sign $2bn deals

LONDON: Some of the biggest corporate names from Saudi Arabia and the UK announced deals worth SR8 billion ($2.13 billion) in London yesterday.
About 18 agreements were signed as CEO’s from both countries gathered at a forum in London’s Mansion House which was part of a series of events arranged around a three-day official visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince this week met with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Prince Charles and  senior government officials as both countries set out plans to build £65 billion ($90.29 billion) trade and investment ties in coming years. 
The move comes as both countries embark on radical new economic journeys — which in the case of Britain involves leaving the EU and for Saudi Arabia means framing a social and economic future that is no longer reliant on oil. 
The pair see a number of synergies emerging from both processes, underscored by the flurry of deals signed yesterday.
The Kingdom is also simplifying and speeding up the paperwork needed to establish businesses in an effort to stimulate the SME sector while also drawing in more external investment.
Among the new partnerships announced yesterday was a preliminary agreement between Saudi Aramco and Royal Dutch Shell. 
“It is a discussion that began some time ago and now we have signed a memorandum to work on gas projects from upstream to downstream across the world and in Saudi Arabia. Concrete projects would be announced in due course,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told Reuters after the signing ceremony. Other deals covered sectors that included health, investment, innovation and energy. 
The crown prince also met British finance minister Philip Hammond at the Saudi embassy in London, a government spokesperson said on Thursday.
The UK visit cheered investors on the Tadawul Saudi stock exchange which led gains in Gulf markets yesterday.
The UK and Saudi Arabia have long-standing business ties, with about 6,000 UK firms engaged in business with the Kingdom according to the Saudi British Joint Business Council.


‘Judgment day’ looms for Australia’s scandal-hit banks

Updated 26 September 2018
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‘Judgment day’ looms for Australia’s scandal-hit banks

  • Firms like Commonwealth Bank, NAB, ANZ and Westpac are among the world’s most profitable financial institutions
  • ‘We have to be aware that regulators do run serious risks of being captured by industry’

SYDNEY: Australia’s scandal-plagued banks are braced for “judgment day,” as a public inquiry into industry misconduct prepares to publish its initial findings after months of damning customer testimony.
The financial sector — including Australia’s all-powerful “big four” banks — faces a public backlash and the prospect of tighter regulations when an interim Royal Commission report is published before a Sunday deadline.
Firms like Commonwealth Bank, NAB, ANZ and Westpac are among the world’s most profitable financial institutions and largely avoided the shackles placed on US and European banks in the wake of the global financial crisis.
But a raft of reports of them issuing dodgy financial advice, life insurance and fraudulent mortgages forced a reluctant business-friendly government to call for a Royal Commission late last year.
Since then, a series of hearings involving almost 10,000 submissions and more than 100 witnesses has stunned even hardened observers.
They included accounts of NAB staff accepting cash-stuffed envelopes to pass dubious loans and help them “smash” sales targets, while staff at Commonwealth Bank — Australia’s largest firm — charged fees to customers who had died up to a decade before.
“This is a shocking wake-up call to the business community,” said the government’s former competition tsar Graeme Samuel.
The sector needs to admit that “something’s fundamentally wrong,” he said.
The inquiry has already claimed several scalps, including the chairman of the country’s largest wealth manager AMP, who quit in April days after the chief executive stood down when it was revealed the firm charged clients for advice they never received.
A decade ago the sector was lauded for emerging unscathed from the global financial crisis and avoiding the risky investments that doomed their peers.
Commentators say that successes may have bred complacency among banks as well as the government and regulators.
In Samuel and other analysts’ books, regulators had sufficient powers to reign in wayward banks — but failed to do so.
“We have to be aware that regulators do run serious risks of being captured by industry,” he said.
“It requires a strong discipline on the part of regulators to prevent it from occurring, so this will be a wake-up call.”
Recently installed Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman James Shipton has vowed to bring about cultural change.
The agency on Tuesday released its own damning report finding “unacceptable delays” in banks’ reporting and addressing “significant breaches” of laws.
Major banks were taking an average time of 1,726 days — or more than 4.5 years — to identify significant breaches, ASIC found.
Even then, financial institutions took an average of 226 days from the end of their breach investigation to make the first payments to affected customers.
Shipton said the figures were a “sad indictment” of the sector.
More oversight and tighter rules are likely to be raised in the interim Royal Commission report, which has been dubbed the banks’ “judgment day” by some analysts and media.
The commissioner, former High Court judge Kenneth Hayne, could also find the banks had breached civil and criminal provisions for alleged misconduct.
Most banks are already moving to spin off their financial advisory arms from their main activities to avoid conflicts of interest raised during the hearings.
One more round of hearings focusing on policy forums will run in November, with Hayne’s final report due by February 1 next year.