TTF Blog: 14 October 2021

A City friendly watchdog - why whistleblowers flounder

Gleaming: City of London

by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting

A group of progressive lawmakers, including Baroness Kramer, Lord Sikka, Baroness Bowles and Lord Sharkey, are attempting to create an ‘Office for the Whistleblower’, an independent advocate for whistleblowers in the UK.
 
The draft law is a Private Members’ Bill, and is about to reach Third Reading stage. It is likely that the Government will look to block it.
 
The case for a new institution
The Lords’ case is that persecution of whistleblowers is rife, the threat of corruption endemic and that industry watchdogs are too close to the the employers that they are scrutinising.
 
Baroness Bowles told the assembled peers: “I have had discussions, including with people in the regulatory sphere, where the FCA has been defended on the grounds that ‘financial stability was more important’ and you could not sack the boss of a big bank.”
 
She said: “That type of attitude is perhaps the most damaging systemic risk there is, and it is embedded throughout the public and private sectors.”
 
Beyond this – and across industries – the Lords repeatedly refer to astronomical Tribunal costs, pricing whistleblowers out when clearing their name. Baroness Kramer said: ” I have never heard of a regulator intervening in an employment tribunal case even though this is where most employees who speak out end up.”
 
In that first debate on the Private Members’ Bill this summer, the Government’s representative, Lord Callanan, suggested that a new Office would be a waste of resources.
 
Lord Callanan remarked: “The Government believe that it is the regulator that has the best understanding of its sector.”
 
There were around 35,000 whistleblowing disclosures across industries in 2018-19. Callanan observed: “Should the new body have these functions, it would require significant staffing resources, with diverse expertise across all sectors” He later added: “I have not been convinced that the Bill is the right solution to the matters that have been raised”.
 
Baroness Kramer, whose team drafted the Bill, replied by pointing simply to the hypocrisy that most whistleblowers face: “I am rather sad at the Government’s response, because the fundamental core of our argument is that all the assertions of what takes place and the lived reality of what takes place are two entirely different experiences. We need something such as the office of the whistleblower to ensure that the gap is bridged.”
 
Glen: don’t say boo to a goose
 
The Financial Conduct Authority is an archetypal regulator that serves multiple purposes. For example, it regulates the financial services industry while also promoting ‘financial stability’ – a surprisingly selective term. Recent history should teach us that what is deemed ‘good’ for a bank can amount to outright sabotage or sacrifice of its customers, there are some examples below.
 
These lessons of the past have not discouraged the Treasury from pushing the FCA to act as a PR service for the City, in a ‘post-Brexit push’.
 
Times‘ reporter Louisa Clarence-Smith scooped City Minister John Glen’s address to bankers and insurers in which he floated changing the law. He wants to “make competitiveness a statutory duty” in which watchdogs would have to consider the impact of their policies “on the UK’s position as a global financial centre”.
 
Can the banks not take care of themselves? This month’s most striking news (aside from hunger-striker John Guidi defeating Cerberus) is that the FCA will fine NatWest £360m for failing to prevent moneylaundering. It’s a drop in the ocean but it may change the industry. And in the wake of the Pandora Papers leaks, the case could not be stronger to crack down on the global shadow economy of tax evasion and money-laundering, as in the U.S.
 
All this said, the FCA’s effective action on NatWest still means next to nothing for consumers still picking up the pieces from a raft of consumer scandals. Investigative journalist Ian Fraser tweetedIt’s good that @TheFCA is exercised by money-laundering by #NatWest. But why does the regulator ignore the bank’s doctoring of files to minimise compensation payouts to businesses it crippled through the missale of interest-rate swaps?” Transparency Task Force explored how those swaps were missold, and the wreckage of small businesses, in a symposium here.
 
FCA omitted consumers from ‘almost sixty’ talks about selling their mutual
 
MPs recently unearthed how the FCA has been spectating on the proposed sale of a longstanding, profitable British insurer  Liverpool Victoria – a mutual. The sale is to Bain Capital, an American private equity firm, and would effectively wrest the firm out of customers’ ownership.
 
If the courts allow the demutualisation to go ahead, some MPs fear it will herald a new wave of demutualisations, flogging off longstanding companies, potentially to more purchasers abroad.
 
In investigating and campaigning against the sale, Gareth Thomas MP unearthed the fact of nearly 60 meetings that the FCA has held with Liverpool Victoria’s top brass about their demutualisation. Astonishingly, the FCA has failed to even once engage with the firm’s customers about the plan. In a mutual the customers are evidently the owners, too. Even then they were not given a seat at the table.
 
Moreover, Thomas and other MPs found that the mutual having quietly converted itself into a limited company, no longer a Friendly Society, is what may allow the deal to go ahead. This makes the whole process look pre-orchestrated by top brass, without involving customers adequately in the plan.
 
Thomas – a Labour / Co-Op MP – shared his concerns with Parliament. “This is the first proposed demutualisation of a major financial services business since the financial crash. … The tidal wave of private equity money apparently available for purchases of British firms prompts the inevitable question of whether this proposed demutualisation is a one-off or whether it is the start of another wave”.
 
He accused the regulator of bias: “I wonder whether there is not a frog in hot water-type problem here, with the FCA so close to the Liverpool Victoria board in this case—and potentially to other financial firms …”
 
Whose financial stability?
The FCA is also showing signs that it is entrenched in an ‘upstairs, downstairs’ culture for its own staff. The watchdog’s excessive £45k bonuses have just been condemned in the Guardian newspaper. Sunak has promised to end them, but an ongoing ‘civil war’ in the FCA over pay disparity could lead to employees unionising. Integrity starts within.
 
The same informed skepticism is expressed overseas. Dr Andy Schmulow, a Sydney-based professor of Financial Services Regulation, observed last month that: “Globally, financial system regulators are susceptible to deliberate and inadvertent influence by the industry that they oversee and, hence, are also susceptible to acting to benefit the industry rather than the public interest – a phenomenon known as ‘regulatory capture’.”
 

To prevent capture, Dr Schmulow outlines how to create a body that oversees the regulators, as is happening in Australia. The reason for this is similar to Baroness Kramer’s ‘Office of the Whistleblower’ but has a more general purpose. You can read that paper here.

Press Timeline of relevant articles:

12 October 2021Civil war: FCA staff pushing for union involvement after pay cut row with CEO Nikhil Rathi by Michiel Willems for City A.M.

10 October 2021Outrage over £125m bonuses for staff at UK’s ‘failing’ financial watchdog by Jon Ungoed-Thomas for the Guardian

10 October 2021Post-Brexit push: FCA to market London’s financial services sector abroad by Lily Russell-Jones for City A.M.

09 October 2021Financial watchdogs told to boost City abroad by Louisa Clarence-Smith for the Times

21 August 2021‘She groomed me for £10,000’: scandal at FSCS as employee goes rogue – Staffer charged with helping London Capital & Finance victim recover £20,000 but soliciting loans as well by Harry Brennan for the Telegraph

12 August 2021Whistleblowers make 2,754 separate allegations of financial misconduct to FCA by Pedro Gonçalves for Investment Week

26 July 2021 – Foxes in the hen house? The trouble with politicians in financial boardrooms by JB Beckett for Investment Week

20 July 2021Divorced From Reality: How Legal Loans Racked Up Half a Million Debt for a Standard Divorce by Katie Tarrant & Alex Varley-Winter for BylineTimes

15 July 2021Don’t ditch ‘tried and tested’ investments for ESG by

13 July 2021Private equity and the raid on corporate Britain by Kaye Wiggins, Harriet Agnew and Daniel Thomas

05 July 2021FCA breaking law over consumer consultation, campaigners allege by for MoneyMarketing

02 July 2021Banks’ bad behaviour damaging consumer confidence by

25 June 2021MPs LCF report too soft on FCA, campaigners say by

 
24 June 2021Regulators should do more to prevent another HBOS debacle by
 
09 June 2021FCA risks ‘legal jeopardy’ over consumer duty by
 
18 May 2021How the vulnerable lost their life savings while regulators stood by by Ben Chapman for the Independent
 
17 May 2021 – Business Banking Resolution Service ‘done on the cheap’ by James Hurley for the Times
 
12 May 2021Where next for mortgage prisoners? by Olivia Selley and Tara Panicker for FT Adviser
 
 
26 Apr, 2021 – ‘Catatonic’ FCA under fire over mini-bond firm’s collapse by Ollie Smith for Citywire
 
24 Apr, 2021 City watchdog ignores 45 warnings as investors lose £47m in bond scandal by Adam Williams for the Telegraph
 
09 Apr 2021PM urged to ‘clean up’ financial services by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
 
 
 
 
 
15 Mar 2021Andrew Bailey under pressure over link to RBS scandal by Edward Thicknesse in City A.M.
 
12 Mar 2021Beware the City’s push for a new regulatory watchdog by Helen Thomas for the FT
 
 
20 Feb 2021£1.5bn Germany property scandal leaves British savers facing financial ruin by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph
 
18 Feb 2021 Barclays boosts bonus payouts despite 30% fall in profit by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
 
17 Feb 2021Where next as government bonds lose power of diversification? by Adam Lewis for Portfolio Adviser
 
17 Feb 2021Neil Woodford under fire from Jersey regulator by Lucy Burton for the Telegraph
 
 

06 Feb 2021Fraud victims suffer enough – guarantee will help innocent overcome shame of scamming by Daniel Jones for the Sun

05 Feb 2021Leader: The FCA’s leaders need to step up when things go wrong by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

04 Feb 2021Pension scam victims say regulators should have saved them from from losing life savings, by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph

02 Feb 2021SMCR rules come back to bite FCA in mini-bond probe ‘rules around senior managers being held responsible for their actions have come back to bite the regulator’, by Daniela Esnerova for MoneyMarketing

02 Feb 2021Regulation must deliver transparency and protection for Buy Now Pay Later consumers by Alex Marsh for City A.M.

02 Feb 2021 Bank chief Bailey ‘should be censured’ for failings by James Hurley for the Times

02 Feb 2021FCA criticised for trying to omit names from LCF report by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

02 Feb 2021Poll: Should FCA executives bear personal responsibility for the London Capital and Finance fallout? by MoneyMarketing

01 Feb 2021 – Investment funds flouting new transparency rules by Patrick Hosking for the Times

01 Feb 2021MPs launch full inquiry into London Capital & Finance scandal with chairman declaring it will be “thorough and clear” by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard

29 Jan 2021The Financial Services Bill doesn’t provide the tough regulation we need by Professor Prem Sikka for Left Foot Forward

25 Jan 2021FCA urges clients of collapsed British Steel firm to consider claims by Sonia Rach for MoneyMarketing

21 Jan 2021MPs call on FCA to ‘hold bad advisers to account’ by Laura Purkess for CityWire

21 Jan 2021FCA told it lacks vision to tackle consumer issues by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

18 Jan 2021Former Hong Kong lawmaker rejects HSBC’s explanation over frozen accounts by Reuters

18 Jan 2021What we learned from a bumper FCA data dump by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

18 Jan 2021Wall Street fears bubble from Biden stimulus as retail investing booms by Katherine Greifeld, Claire Ballentine and Vildana Hajric for Independent.ie

15 Jan 2021 –  Mortgage prisoners accuse Treasury of working against them as wider FCA remit blocked by Owain Thomas for Mortgage Solutions

14 Jan 2021MP Vows To Keep Pushing Tougher Economic Crime Law by Richard Crump for Law360

12 Jan 2021 – Bitcoin: be prepared to lose all your money, FCA warns consumers by Kalyeena Makortoff  for the Guardian

07 Jan 2021 Regulators and police say Covid lockdowns have driven up online pension scams and demand regulation of Google, Facebook and others by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard

06 Jan 2021 Why UK savers could fall through the cracks in Brexit regulation from the FCA by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard

04 Jan 2021Bank of England fails to publish officials’ expenses by Alex Ralph for the Times

18 Dec 2020Executives at Financial Conduct Authority to lose bonuses over London Capital & Finance scandal by Ben Martin for the Times – Bosses at the Financial Conduct Authority will lose £205,000 in bonuses after the highly critical report on the regulator’s handling of the London Capital & Finance scandal

17 Dec 2020The fallout from the financial regulator’s shocking failure on LC&F is not over yet by Nils Pratley for the Guardian

17 Dec 2020FCA did not ‘effectively supervise’ collapsed mini-bond issuer LCF, says report by Matthew Vincent for the Financial Times  “Members of the Transparency Task Force, a lobby group pushing for regulatory reform, pointed out that in his own representations to the Gloster review, Mr Bailey included a demand “to delete references to ‘responsibility’ resting with specific identified/identifiable individuals”.

17 Dec 2020Former Financial Conduct Authority boss Bailey apologises over handling of mini-bond scandal by Ben Martin for the Times

16 Dec 2020EU cannot be ‘captured’ by City of London, warns financial services chief by Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden for the Financial Times

09 Nov 2020Spike in personal pension cases at ombudsman by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

09 Nov 2020 – Regulator: Climate risk ‘looms even larger’ than pandemic by Avery Ellfeldt for ClimateWire (U.S.)

08 Nov 2020How financial services watchdog has reacted to UK consumer worries in Covid by Hilary Osborne for Guardian

08 Nov 2020Five predictions for banking regulation in a Biden presidency by Jon Hill for Law 360

05 Nov 2020Martin Lewis warns of ‘epidemic of scams’ after ICU nurse loses £8,000 by Scott Edwards for Wales Online

05 Nov 2020FCA bans adviser trio jailed for sex offences by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

03 Nov 2020 – ‘We haven’t received a penny’: Business interruption insurance row intensifies as owners fear payout delays, by Elizabeth Anderson for iNews

03 Nov 2020Aviva’s shares fiasco highlights weakness of the city watchdog by Patrick Hosking for the Times

02 Nov 2020Banks have done little to help the country through the pandemic, so why is the government rewarding them? by Simon Youel for the Independent

29 Oct 2020 – Calls to sack Malta financial regulator CEO by Cristian Angeloni for International Adviser

27 Oct 2020U.S. group urges Biden to use financial regulation to control climate change by Valerie Volcovici for Reuters

27 Oct 2020 ‘Impact startups’ continue to raise funding during the pandemic despite difficulties faced by the wider tech startup sector by Sebastian Klovig Skelton for Computer Weekly

26 Oct 2020 – Why there must be thorough probe of claims made by Bank Signature Forgery Campaign – Greg Wright  for the Yorkshire Post

26 Oct 2020 –  Critics demand action over ‘flawed’ British Banking Resolution Service by James Hurley for the Times

23 Oct 2020Bank Signature Forgery (film) by Nicholas Wilson for Corruption UK

22 Oct 2020 – UK fraud agency suffers string of senior departures by Kate Beioley for the FT

22 Oct 2020Work harder to find fraud, watchdog tells auditors by James Hurley for the Times

17 Oct 2020 – MPs pursue claims bank signatures were faked on court papers by Rupert Jones for the Guardian

16 Oct 2020 We need universal digital ad transparency now by Laura Edelson, Erika Franklin Fowler and Jason Chuang for TechCrunch

15 Oct 2020 – Rising COVID-19 Rates Send NatWest Misselling Trial To Video by Bonnie Eslinger for Law 360

15 Oct 2020 – MPs Push Agencies to Act on Forged Signature Claims by Law360

13 Oct 2020 –  Mark Carney says banks should link executive pay to Paris climate goals by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian

12 Oct 2020 ‘It is time to reboot the competition regime for the modern, digital age’ by David Wighton, The Times

12 Oct 2020 Gina Miller blasts FCA complaints scheme changes ‘unfair, immoral and illegal’ by Cristian Angeloni for Portfolio Adviser

12 Oct 2020MPs call for input on Pension Schemes Bill by James Phillips for Professional Pensions

10 Oct 2020 Give pension trustees power to fight scammers, say MPs by Kenza Bryan for the Times

08 Oct 2020  – Freedom to transfer pensions should be stripped where scams are suspected, industry experts urge by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph

08 Oct 2020 – Planned pensions shake-up passes first Commons hurdle by Law 360

08 Oct 2020 – WPC chairman says transfer rules ‘must be changed’ by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

07 Oct 2020 – Tech giants share blame for pension scams, MPs told by Law 360

06 Oct 2020 – FCA opens 85 cases over pension scam concerns by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

 
28 Sep 2020 – PM urged to show leadership in fight against scams by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
 
28 Sep 2020The 100 Whistleblowers who changed Wall Street by Stephen M. Kohn and Mary Jane Wilmoth for National Law Review
 
28 Sep 2020TTF calls for govt leadership on pension scams following meeting with PM by Sophie Smith for Pensions Age
 
 
26 Sep 2020 – £60m revamp for Action Fraud hotline that failed victims by Martin Beckford for The Sunday Times
 
25 Sep 2020 – FCA labels Google’s scam advert efforts ‘deeply frustrating’ by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
 
23 Sep 2020 – Bank Forgery Campaign (video) by Andy Verity for BBC
 
 
21 Sep 2020 Flood of complaints expected over Covid-19 UK business loans, by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
 
 
16 Sep 2020 – Regulators Accused of Ignoring Scam Warnings by Jack Gray for Pensions Age
 
16 Sep 2020Tougher clampdown on pension scams is needed, MPs told by Vicky Shaw for Belfast Telegraph
 
 
11 Sep 2020 – ‘Delay changes to Watchdog Complaints Scheme’ by James Hurley for The Times
 
 
03 Sep 2020Regulators have not yet got to grips with how to close down crooks, warns TTF  by Hope William-Smith for Professional Pensions
 

24 Aug 2020Financial Conduct Authority rushes to minimise compensation for its failings by James Hurley for The Times

04 Aug 2020Have your say: Will the WPC’s inquiry into the impact of pension freedoms be too overshadowed by Covid-19 impacts? by Professional Pensions

03 Aug 2020 – ‘“I’m 39, have lost my job and am in debt – can I unlock my £18k pension?” … DON’T do it!’‘ by Steve Webb for This is Money

01 Aug 2020‘I lost £2.3m after I was conned into transferring my pension’ by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph

28 Jul 2020MPs launch inquiry into pension scams  by Tom Kelly for Daily MailUK Pension Scams Under Scrutiny After 2015 Relaxation in Rules by Reuters & MPs launch wide-ranging pension scams probe by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

24 Jul 2020 – US business groups seek steps to stamp out online fraud by Leonie Barrie for Just Style

22 Jul 2020Pension scams increase amid lockdown by Sophie Smith for Pensions Age & Missed Opportunity to Use Victims in Scam Work by Amy Austin for FT Adviser

21 Jul 2020  Londongrad Calling: Is Europe’s Laundromat the ‘New Normal’? by Mark Conrad

20 Jul 2020 Campaigners Aim to Create Pension Scam Database by Michael Klimes & Government eyes unauthorised firms by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing

17 Jul 2020 – Year ‘dominated’ by FCA shortcomings as 205 complaints made,  by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

29 Jun 2020 – MPs Pushed to Launch Pension Scam Inquiry by Amy Austin for FT Adviser & Lawmakers Urged To Open Inquiry Into Pension Scams by Martin Croucher for Law 360

11 Jun 2020 Blackmore minibond investors get just £5m back by Ben Martin for the Times

11 May 2020 – FCA urged to build public trust in independent reviews by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

30 Apr 2020 – FCA was warned three years ago about mini-bond firm Blackmore Bond, which collapsed with £45m of savers’ money by Ben Chapman for the Independent

15 Apr 2020 – Met police lose two thirds of finance officers as fraud soars by Ben Ellery for the Times

25 Mar 2020 – Care Home Wants NatWest Docs in Misselling Fight by Law360

20 Mar 2020 – Connaught review delayed as Covid-19 concerns loom by Rachel Mortimer in FT Adviser

07 Jan 2020It’s time to keep your pensions promise, Boris! The PM pledged to help these victims of a huge scam FOUR years ago – and they’re still waiting by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail.

29 Dec 2019‘Lambs to the slaughter – tens of thousands of savers have lost up to £10billion in rogue pensions schemes sanctioned by the government… and now the taxman is threatening VICTIMS with fines’, and ‘Making millions from other people’s misery’: A Government adviser, call centre chief and pension scheme director are among those who stand accused of involvement in pension schemes that exploited loophole in the law by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail

03 Sep 2019
Chris Gordon Developer who ‘lost £1m’ takes legal action against Ulster Bank by Alan Erwin for the Belfast Telegraph

30 Aug 2019 – MPs back businessman on hunger strike at Clydesdale Bank by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian

15 Aug 2019Victims hit by Connaught’s collapse blast City watchdog for ‘whitewashing’ independent review by Lucy White for Daily Mail

05 Aug 2019Plunder in paradise: The ‘adviser’ behind a Costa scam that has cost expat pensioners £25MILLION – and led one to attempt suicide by Laura Shannon for Mail on Sunday

05 Jul 2019 Government-owned bank ‘forging signatures’ in repossession cases by Andy Verity for BBC

18 Jun 2019“I came home to find my house had been stolen!” by Angela Ellis-Jones for the Daily Mail

20 Jun 2019 – FCA orders review of its handling of Connaught collapse by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser

13 Jun 2019 – Investigation into disgraced RBS small business unit branded a ‘whitewash’ by MPs by Ben Chapman for the Independent

07 Jun 2019Guernsey Stock Exchange disputes FCA account over Woodford by David Thorpe in FT Adviser

29 Mar 2019MPs call for inquiry into alleged forgery of signatures by Andy Verity for BBC

15 Feb 2017 – RBS accused of fraud & forgery by customers and ex-employee by Andrew Hosken for The World Tonight BBC Radio 4

22 Dec 2016Solicitors suspended for roles in collapsed Brazilian investment scheme by Nick Hilborne for Legal Futures

10 Oct 2016 The Dash For Cash: Leaked Files Reveal RBS Systematically Crushed British Businesses For Profit by Heidi Blake, Jane Bradley, Tom Warren & Richard Holmes for Buzzfeed News