“Oh my.” Those words, in a conversation at 9:51 a.m. on the day Citi mistakenly transferred $ 900 million to 315 creditors of cosmetics giant Revlon, marked Vinny Fratta’s first awareness of the extent of the fault.
A payment-centric lawsuit opened in federal court on Wednesday, with Fratta, a senior executive in Citi’s lending operations group, and other bank workers taking the witness stand.
Fratta represents two of the “six eyes” the bank relies on in its process of reviewing and executing wire transfers from the asset-based bridging finance group.
First, a “creator,” usually from tech company Wipro, manually puts payment information into Citi’s Flexcube loan processing system. Then another Wipro employee serves as the “auditor” in the first step. Finally, a Citi “approver” – in this case Fratta – checks the work of Wipro employees one last time.
The Flexcube system, Fratta said in a court statement, has a default mode that will send an electronic payment unless the manufacturer overrides that option. That box was checked for some but not all of the Revlon payments that were distributed on August 11, Fratta said.
Initially, Fratta said he believed the error was the result of a technical failure.
“As the day wore on,” he said, according to Bloomberg, “I accepted that the error was not caused by some kind of glitch but rather by human error, and that I was one of the humans responsible for the error.”
Fratta oversees a team of six Citi employees based in Delaware and nine Wipro employees in India who work exclusively with the bank, Bloomberg reported.
“Oh my God,” Fratta told the India-based entrepreneur who served as the “verifier” in Citi’s “six-eye” protocol for the Revlon transfer. “Did we have proof that the transfers went to the specific lender identified in their email? Did it go to all the lenders? What was the amount of the overpayment? “
Fratta said he intended to transfer interest payments from approximately $ 7.8 million and to reflect a “non-cash transfer” of nearly $ 900 million to an internal account maintained by Citi.
That Citi’s loan operations software allowed such an error potentially contributed to the $ 400 million fine the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) imposed on the bank in October what the regulator called “deficiencies in enterprise-wide risk management, compliance risk management, corporate governance, data and internal controls ”.
The regulator’s threat of reprimand, among other factors, prompted Citi CEO Michael Corbat to postpone your planned retirement date until february, when Jane Fraser will take over as a senior manager of the bank.
Several Revlon creditors have returned their portions – approximately $ 390 million – from the transfer and, in an earlier lawsuit, Citi persuaded a judge to order a $ 412 million temporary freeze. But other creditors – Brigade Capital Management, HPS Investment Partners and Symphony Asset Management, in particular – have said the money is theirs, even if it is not due until 2023. They are citing a court ruling of New York of 1991 that a creditor may retain money transferred in error under certain circumstances as a “discharge for value”.
To that end, Vincent Farrell, Citi’s North American lending manager, said on Wednesday he “encountered resistance” almost immediately from some of the defendants when the bank demanded return of the funds.
A brigade representative, when told it was an “urgent matter” and asked if the creditor would return the money, told Farrell that “the matter was still pending. ‘review’ and that he should come back to him, Farrell said in a statement filed with the court.
An HPS employee said he would check with others and report, but never did, Farrell said.
Symphony sent an email asking the bank to stop “harassing” her, Farrell said.
“It was confusing because we had never had the chance to speak to anyone at Symphony and had not received any response to any of our emails,” he said, according to Bloomberg.
Asked by lawyers for the defendants what he would do if he were in the place of the creditors, Farrell said he would inquire and expect additional notice explaining such a payment – and “return the funds if that’s what I was told to do. “
The trial resumes Thursday by videoconference and without a jury, and is expected to last four days.