Financial Conduct Authority

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 1st February 2016.

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Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans) 8:59 pm, 1st February 2016

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The system regulated by the FCA, which the Chancellor wants people to rely on, continues to fail to provide all these investors with compensation, or even an explanation, for their loss.

Mr Devon and many others have been, and are being, misled. Even if an ordinary investor approaches the UK’s financial services sector through an independent financial adviser and asks for a secure, low-risk investment, their money can disappear, and their financial plans and their life can be turned upside down, while agencies that cost millions of pounds to run fail to deliver.

Mr Devon’s investment was in an unregulated collective investment scheme. That might sound highly technical, but it may not be so complicated. In workplaces all across the country, one or two people voluntarily run savings groups, or ménages, where colleagues regularly save money and take turns to receive a lump sum. Depending on the size of the workplace, the sums involved can be significant. That is such a simple operation that the phrase “couldn’t run a ménage” is a common description for someone who is a serial failure at even basic tasks.

Surely, in relation to the Connaught fund, a group such as Capita must be able to do a better job of running a collective financial operation than workmates who have run workplace ménages for years. On the contrary, Connaught became a warning that when players in the UK financial services sector go rogue, the systems for regulation, enforcement and restitution fail to protect our investors. When problems with Connaught emerged, Capita turned tail and ran. It has been allowed to continue evading its responsibility to investors through years of regulatory inertia and confusion.

The financial services sector in the UK has run foul of the law and lost millions—indeed, billions—of pounds too many times. The phrase “couldn't run a ménage” seems an apt description of too many of the organisations and individuals who provide the sector with its leadership. Just like the regulators that oversaw the crash of 2008, the FCA, Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme seem to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Even fighting a case all the way through the system may well leave an investor significantly out of pocket. This is definitely a system that does not do what it says on the tin.

I was not shocked to find that the Treasury grabs the regulatory fines, but should they really be grabbed from an industry where the cost of regulation, enforcement and compensation are borne by those in the industry and its customers? We need to look seriously at how we provide more effective regulation, enforcement and compensation, and we should also review the levies and fines. One of the gaps could be filled by giving the FOS a role in enforcing payment of compensation, removing the need for an additional set of fees and ensuring more consistency in investors’ ability to secure the compensation awarded. I have particular concerns about the operation of professional indemnity insurance in the IFA sector. When insurers exempt schemes known to be causing concerns, that undermines the reality of IFA protection and causes significant problems for them. The FCA needs to look at making significant changes to the insurance rules. It could perhaps examine the operation of the Scottish solicitors’ “master policy” and the highly successful Association of British Travel Agents and ATOL—air travel organisers’ licence—industry-wide indemnity schemes.

I want to conclude by commenting on the relationship between the Government and the FCA. It is interesting that in the week before this debate the FCA announced the appointment of a new chief executive, Andrew Bailey. It is widely reported that Mr Bailey was hand-picked for the post from the Bank of England by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I find this surprising in the light of an exchange I had with the Economic Secretary during a recent debate on the Connaught fund. When I queried the fact that neither the Chancellor nor any other Treasury Minister held a single bilateral meeting with the FCA over a two-year period, she did not contradict me, and I have heard nothing to suggest that it is incorrect. I understand that the absence of such meetings may be intended to give an appearance that the FCA acts as an independent agency, but if the chief executive is hand-picked by the Chancellor, having not even applied for the post, what does that say about the FCA’s independence? Of course there is regular correspondence and interaction between the Government and the FCA, so during a time of such pressure on the financial services sector, why was there not a single bilateral ministerial engagement with the FCA over such a long period? The absence of such meetings perhaps has more to do with protecting Ministers than protecting the independence of a body whose principal officers are headhunted at the Chancellor’s bidding.

As someone steeped in the issues of banking governance and the recovery of the banking sector from the low points of recent years, Mr Bailey could demonstrate his independence very easily by signalling his desire to have the FCA reinstate the inquiry into banking culture. Failure to do so may be interpreted as the inquiry having been ditched to clear the way for him taking up his post. If that is the case, his tenure will not get off to a positive start, and questions over the independence and integrity of the FCA will continue to grow.