An influential Washington bank advisory firm agreed on Tuesday to pay $15 million and abstain from certain consulting engagements for six months to resolve a dispute with New York’s top bank regulator.
Promontory Financial Group made no admission of wrongdoing but agreed with the state that “in certain instances” its actions on behalf of Britain-based Standard Chartered “did not meet the department’s current requirements for consultants performing regulatory compliance work for entities supervised by the department.”
State investigators accused Promontory of softening a report it prepared on behalf of Standard Chartered outlining the bank’s role in moving money from such countries as Sudan, Iran and Burma that faced sanctions from the United States.
“We are glad to have resolved this matter,” Eugene Ludwig,founder and chief executive, said in a statement. “We remain committed to quality and integrity in carrying out our work.”
The agreement also calls for Promontory to document for regulators any changes it makes to future reports at the suggestion of its client.
“The department will continue to aggressively investigate and address conflicts of interest at consulting firms, which is a critical part of combating misconduct and improving accountability in the financial markets,” said Anthony J. Albanese, acting superintendent of Financial Services for New York in a statement accompanying the settlement agreement.
In 2009, Standard Chartered hired Promontory for $54 million to write a report on whether the bank’s numerous money transactions originating in sanctioned countries complied with U.S. regulations.
The consultant has been troubleshooting for banks and financial services firms worldwide for more than a decade. The firm’s role as bank doctor has been highly lucrative.
Ludwig is a former banking attorney who served under President Bill Clinton as U.S. comptroller of the currency. He was also vice chairman of Bankers Trust/Deutsche Bank.
When it released its findings earlier this month, the New York regulator said that a two-year investigation, which included examining thousands of internal Promontory e-mails, showed “that Promontory exhibited a lack of independent judgment in the preparation and submission of certain reports to the Department in 2010-2011.”
The report said that Promontory changed the language and heading in the report at the request of Standard Chartered. It accused Promontory of removing “red flags highlighting [Charter’s] misconduct” and adding “sterile” language that softened the report.
Attorney Matthew L. Schwartz, a partner in the white-collar defense unit at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, saw the agreement as a victory for Promontory because it did not include an admission of wrongdoing. Promontory had explored possibly challenging the regulator in court.
“By reaching an agreement, even on terms favorable to Promontory, [the state regulator] avoided a potential challenge to its authority to issue findings against a company that it doesn’t regulate,” Schwartz said in an e-mail.
Promontory is not the first bank consultant to tangle with New York regulators.
In 2013, New York’s regulator reached an agreement with Deloitte LLP’s financial advisory unit that included a $10 million payment, refraining for one year from new business with some New York banks and undertaking reforms to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest. That agreement settled accusations over Deloitte’s review of money-laundering controls at Standard Chartered Bank.
A year ago, the state reached a settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers, accusing it of “improperly altering” a report to regulators covering sanction compliance by the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi.
PricewaterhouseCoopers was suspended for 24 months from accepting consulting engagements at financial institutions regulated by the state and was required topay $25 million to the state.