Time for tea – and a new debt panel?

August 19, 2009

Library photo of forty-one-year-old Englishman Stephen Twining, a tenth generation member of the well-known tea family, drinks a cup of tea at a product launch in Sydney. REUTERS/Tim WimborneThe fall-out from the IMO Car Wash court case continues to rumble through London’s restructuring world, with momentum building for better out-of-court processes to help avoid a repeat performance.

Wednesday saw RBS’s head of restructuring Derek Sach add his voice to calls for a new restructuring panel in London, modelled on the Takeover Panel, which oversees acquisitions in the City of London.

Sach, who spent 19 years at private equity firm 3i before going to RBS to set up the first dedicated restructuring unit in London in 1992, says the new panel is a “wonderful idea”.

“If you have a syndicate owed 500 million pounds and one lender is holding out on a deal who is owed 5 million pounds, there is no remotely simple court process to bring that lender into line,” Sach said.

In the old days of London banking, such a recalcitrant lender would find themselves summoned to the Bank of England and invited to explain their position over a cup of tea, veteran bankers say. As regulator of the City’s banking system, the Bank of England had formidable powers up its sleeve to help make sure it got its way.

This cosy “London Approach” weakened as foreign lenders and hedge funds entered the market, and was killed off when the Bank’s regulatory powers moved to the FSA in 1998.

However, with years of complex restructurings looming, a yearning remains for an informal — and perhaps quintessentially British — style of resolving restructuring disputes.

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