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Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Linklaters advise banks on competition inquiry

International firm Ashurst and Magic Circle trio Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Linklaters are advising the UK’s biggest banks over an inquiry into competition in the banking sector, following an investigation launched by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in mid-July.

Ashurst’s global head of competition and EU law Nigel Parr is leading a team advising Lloyds Banking Group, while Freshfields is acting for HSBC, CC is acting for longstanding client Barclays, and Linklaters for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Freshfields has previously taken on heavyweight mandates for HSBC including advising the banking giant on its record $1.9bn fine from US authorities in a settlement over money laundering. CC has previously won large-scale finance work from Barclays, having led on the bank’s £5.8bn rights issue alongside US firm Sullivan & Cromwell, and has also advised on its £59.5m settlement with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) over the fallout from the Libor scandal.

Linklaters also counts RBS as a regular client, and sits on the banking giant’s panel alongside Freshfields and CC. RBS did, however, appoint CC to conduct an independent inquiry into the treatment received by small business customers in financial distress, after allegations that the bank deliberately drove them to collapse for its own gain.

Britain’s new competition watchdog recommended the inquiry after an investigation into the supply of SME banking services found that high street banks had market shares of over 90%. Further competition concerns raised included limited switching between providers and high barriers to entry.