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Henry Bonsu's HSBC battle

LONG ROAD AHEAD: Henry Bonsu says that banks should take more responsibility and put their customers’ interests and financial situations ahead of business

FORMER BBC broadcaster and Colourful Radio director Henry Bonsu is being pursued by HSBC for £30,000 and tens of thousands of pounds in court costs in a dispute over a personal guarantee agreement. Bonsu, who left the station in 2013, has been embroiled in a battle with the bank since it sought to recover the money he pledged to pay in the event that the business defaulted on its loans.

Bonsu signed the guarantee worth £30,000 in March 2009 shortly after becoming a director at Colourful Radio, but his supporters, including former Trade Minister Lord Jones, argue that he was put under undue pressure to do so and HSBC failed to exercise due care in ensuring he was not at risk of being “unduly influenced” into the decision.

Kofi Kusitor, the founder and owner of Colourful Radio, also signed a guarantee of £30,000.

LIQUIDATOR

But after he placed the company into administration in April 2014, HSBC began its efforts to retrieve the money from those who signed guarantees. Shortly afterwards Kusitor bought back the company from the liquidator and now runs it from London’s Africa Centre. It is not known whether he has reached a settlement with the bank.

“Kofi asked me because I had good credit, and he made it clear that if I didn’t the bank would call in Colourful’s overdraft and the station would collapse. I had already loaned £60,000 to the company and I was terrified that I wouldn’t get it back. Plus, Kofi was the boss and I trusted him, so I agreed to do it,” Bonsu told The Voice.

His relationship with Kusitor is something that Bonsu claims the bank, whose representatives he never met to discuss the guarantee, wrongly did not take into consideration. If they did, he argues, they would have had a private meeting with him, and insisted he take independent legal advice before accepting his signature.

“The bank, according to company law, should have been aware that because this was a small, cash-strapped, essentially family-run business, there was a chance that there might be undue pressure put on some people – i.e. me – to sign a personal guarantee because it wasn’t run like a regular company,” Bonsu said.

He added: “I’ve tried to explain to them [HSBC] that although I became a director I was also an employee with a boss with whom I had a relationship of trust and confidence. The law is very clear that in such cases the bank should have been alert to the presumption of undue influence, and taken action to address it.”

Despite his director title, one that he claims he took only because he feared he would not get back a separate investment of £60,000, Bonsu did not have equal responsibilities as Colourful Radio’s owner.

He told The Voice it was “complete insanity” for HSBC to suggest that he was in as much control of Colourful Radio as Kusitor at the time.

“He [Kusitor] was in total control. He signed all the business contracts, he was in the room, I wasn’t in the room with all these dealings. I was just the famous person who was on TV and radio trying to get other people interested in the station and spending money getting equipment and keeping people coming in. That’s what I was doing,” Bonsu said.

Kusitor expressed shock at the suggestion that Bonsu had been under pressure and told The Voice “this has nothing to do with me”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for HSBC said: “We do not comment on individual customers.”

They added: “We take all complaints extremely seriously; we have robust procedures in place and we are confident in our process for SME [small and medium enterprise] Guarantors.”

Bonsu, who said he was at first reluctant to go public with his case out of embarrassment, made the decision to speak out to highlight what he believes many other people in the black community may be vulnerable to experiencing.

SAFEGUARDS

“What my case shows is that in today’s casual company environment – this gig economy – there are real dangers and the banks, including HSBC, are not doing what they’re supposed to – to make sure that people who are approached to be personal guarantors are given the due legal safeguards,” he said.

“I’m sure I’m not the only person who is in this position.”

Bonsu’s case comes at a time of increasing concern among groups like the All Party Parliamentary Group on fair Business Banking and the Federation of Small Businesses who say Britain’s banks are still failing SME owners, most of whom do not understand the implications of personal guarantees.

They are now campaigning to change the law to force banks to show the same duty of care to commercial customers as they do to ordinary consumers and to introduce a new independent Disputes Resolution Service to level the playing field.

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