ABN Amro Finds 90 Mortgage Advisers Copied Client Signatures

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  • Bank says it will work to repair damaged trust with customers
  • Investigation continues as ABN reviews more than 9,000 files

ABN Amro Group NV said a probe into its mortgage advice practices found that 90 of its advisers copied client signatures in a breach of protocols, 10 times the number reported earlier this month.

The lender, majority-owned by the Dutch government, uncovered the violations in an investigation that focused on an internal rule requiring mortgage advisers to get clients to sign amended borrowing advice reports, Amsterdam-based ABN Amro said in a statement Friday. The bank said it doesn’t believe clients faced any financial disadvantage.

“This is very serious,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters in The Hauge. “Even if there is no material damage for the client, then this isn’t allowed, but fraud.”

ABN Amro announced on Nov. 8 that it had started the probe after nine advisers were found to have copied clients’ signatures. The violations relate to a change introduced in 2013, when the bank started requiring advisers to get clients to sign amended reports. The investigation is continuing, with a total of more than 9,000 files being reviewed. Employees could face punishments ranging from a reprimand to dismissal, the bank said.

“I sincerely regret this could have happened and that we damaged trust by this. We will do everything we can to repair that,” Frans Woelders, head of retail banking at ABN Amro, said in a separate statement. “I also would like to stress there are more than 800 mortgage advisers who did not make this choice.”

ABN Amro slipped 0.5 percent to 20.18 euros at 1 p.m. in Amsterdam trading. The stock is down about 2.4 percent this year, compared with a 14 percent drop by the Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index.

“We think it’s very serious, it’s about forgery,” said Nicole Reijnen, a spokeswoman for the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. “We are in serious talks with ABN Amro.”

ABN Amro is still 70 percent owned by the Dutch state, which plans to sell off its investment over time. The lender is a remnant of the company that fell prey to a takeover in 2007 by a group including Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Banco Santander SA and Fortis NV. The Dutch state stepped in the following year to rescue the bank in the throes of the financial crisis, spending almost 22 billion euros ($23 billion) in the process.

Under government ownership, ABN Amro transformed itself from one of the world’s largest banks to a consumer lender focused on the Netherlands. The bank said in September that Chief Executive Officer Gerrit Zalm will step down in 2017, after he brought the company back to the stock market following its bailout.

The Dutch lender rebuffed a takeover approach from Sweden’s Nordea Bank AB last month.

— With assistance by Anne Van Der Schoot

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