UBS fined $51 million by Hong Kong regulator for overcharging clients

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Swiss bank UBS UBSG.S was fined HK$400 million ($51.09 million) by Hong Kong's securities regulator for overcharging up to 5,000 clients for nearly a decade, the watchdog said on Monday.

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The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) said in a statement that an investigation found UBS had overcharged clients on ‘post-trade spread increases’ and charges in excess of standard disclosures and rates between 2008 and 2017.

The fine is the equal to the largest ever levied on a bank in Hong Kong. In 2017, HSBC's 0005.HK private banking unit was also fined $HK400 million over the sale of Lehman Brothers structured products to customers for five years from 2003.

THE SFC said the investigation exposed ‘serious systemic internal control failures’ at the bank. UBS had failed to disclose conflicts of interests and had overcharged some clients in ‘opaque’ trades, it said.

The overcharging affected 5000 Hong Kong managed client accounts in about 28,700 transactions, it said.

UBS has also agreed to repay the clients HK$200 million, the SFC said.

The regulator said the over-charging occurred in the bank’s wealth management division on bond and structured notes transactions.

UBS was found to have increased the spread charged after the execution of a trade without the clients’ knowledge, it said.

In the statement, the SFC said UBS was also found to have falsified some account statements which were issued to financial intermediaries who were authorized to trade for the clients to “conceal the overcharges”.

UBS said the issues were ‘self-reported’ to the SFC and the results found were against the bank’s standard practice.

“The relevant conduct predominantly relates to limit orders of certain debt securities and structured note transactions, which account for a very small percentage of the bank’s order processing system,” the bank said in a statement.

SFC chief executive Ashley Alder said while each “overcharge represented a fraction of each trade” the bank’s “misconduct involved decisions and a pervasive abuse of trust resulting in significant additional revenue for UBS to which it was not entitled”.

In March, the SFC banned UBS from leading initial public offerings in Hong Kong for a year after it found the bank, and some of its rivals, had failed to carry out sufficient due diligence on a number of deals.

UBS was fined HK$375 million while Morgan Stanley was fined HK$224 million, Merrill Lynch HK$128 million and Standard Chartered (StanChart) HK$59.7 million, all for failures when sponsoring, or leading, public market floats.

($1 = 7.8295 Hong Kong dollars)

Reporting by Scott Murdoch; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Louise Heavens