Scandals, spin and the call for a 'super-regulator'
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting
As embarrassment builds for the Financial Conduct Authority over the Blackmore Bond minibond scandal, Transparency Task Force will host a Symposium on the issue this week.
Investors lost £47m collectively when Blackmore Bond collapsed in 2020. Paul Carlier, one of the witnesses to the scheme’s sales tactics, had written to the FCA’s whistleblowing team about it three years earlier. It appears from a chain of emails that – despite Mark Steward, head of Enforcement, having indicated that they were ‘making enquiries’ – nothing was done to investigate.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Fairer Financial Services – which TTF provides the secretariat to – is calling for an inquiry into the fiasco, following on from Dame Gloster’s damning report on the London Capital & Finance scandal, another mini-bonds scheme.
It does not improve matters that the FCA appears to have engaged in spin, rather than substance, in response to critical reporting on Blackmore Bond case. The FCA commented to press again last week that neither Blackmore Bond nor its products were ‘regulated’. This dodges the core of Carlier’s complaint. According to him, sales agents had been telling customers to say they were ‘sophisticated’ in order to invest. The alleged manipulation of ‘sophistication’ criteria would have brought Blackmore Bond well within the watchdog’s ambit, among other factors.
It speaks to how the watchdog behaved under the stewardship of Andrew Bailey, who is now governor of the Bank of England. Bailey has come under deep scrutiny this year for his handling of the LCF scandal when he ran the FCA. The Blackmore Bond scandal only adds to that scrutiny on mini-bonds.
The FCA under Nikhil Rathi is making the right noises – Rathi commented to Treasury Committee MPs that the watchdog needs to be more willing to take on what he called ‘legal risk’ in enforcement action. Whether these words will lead to real change at the watchdog is yet to be seen.
Are U.K. banks allowed to dodge justice?
Lord Prem Sikka – an accountancy expert by background – last week blew the lid to Parliament on what he sees as the extent of big bank influence in the UK. He presented several arms of an argument that ‘a culture of cover-up is deeply institutionalised’ in this country.
Lack of investigation – Lord Sikka said there has been no investigation of HSBC in the UK since staff were exposed to have ‘knowingly laundered money for criminals and engaged in sanctions-busting’ – the bank was fined $1.9 billion in the United States. In the UK, there was no investigation.
Ministers & BoE accused of ‘intervening’– According to Lord Sikka, a US Senate Committee report in 2016 titled ‘Too Big to Jail’ contained evidence to suggest that Chancellor George Osborne, the then-Governor of the Bank of England and the chief executive of the Financial Services Authority had ‘intervened to protect HSBC’ from harsher punishment on money-laundering.
Rogue institutions? – He also said that the Financial Services Authority, Bank of England and Chancellor had ‘urged the U.S. to go easy on Standard Chartered Bank’, referred to in U.S. Treasury court documents as a “rogue institution”
Lack of a public reckoning – Lord Sikka said that there has been ‘no independent forensic investigation’ of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the “site of the biggest banking fraud of the 20th century” – which closed in 1991.
- Contempt of court The government is refusing an order of the High Court to disclose the ‘Operation Sandstorm’ report on BCCI’s closure. It “is sitting in nearly 1,300 US libraries but it is still a state secret here. Governments have gone to considerable lengths to protect the wrongdoers,” said Lord Sikka.
Which Super-Regulator do we want?
Helen Thomas reported in the FT last week on City lobbying for a new ‘Office for Responsible Financial Regulation’. This sounds remarkably like consumer campaigners’ calls for a ‘watchdog to watch the watchdogs’. Thomas warns us to beware, however, as the proposed Office could be at the beck and call of the financial services industry, allowing them a bigger say in the making of new rules.
Our own proposal for an overarching watchdog would be to give greater scrutiny of how consumers, and particularly those alleging financial crime, are treated. They are too often an afterthought in the current system. You can read our proposed reforms here.
Press Timeline of relevant articles:
06 Feb 2021 – Fraud victims suffer enough – guarantee will help innocent overcome shame of scamming by Daniel Jones for the Sun
05 Feb 2021 – Leader: The FCA’s leaders need to step up when things go wrong by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
04 Feb 2021 – Pension scam victims say regulators should have saved them from from losing life savings, by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph
05 Feb 2021 – U.S. Consumer watchdog sees surge in Robinhood complaints, some clients claim they can’t leave the app by Kate Rooney & Yasmin Khorram for CNBC
02 Feb 2021 – SMCR 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 2021 – Regulation 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 2021 – FCA criticised for trying to omit names from LCF report by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
02 Feb 2021 – Poll: 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 2021 – MPs launch full inquiry into London Capital & Finance scandal with chairman declaring it will be “thorough and clear” by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard
30 Jan 2021 – Analysis: Robinhood and Reddit protected from lawsuits by user agreement, Congress by Tom Hals for Reuters
29 Jan 2021 – The Financial Services Bill doesn’t provide the tough regulation we need by Professor Prem Sikka for Left Foot Forward
25 Jan 2021 – FCA urges clients of collapsed British Steel firm to consider claims by Sonia Rach for MoneyMarketing
22 Jan 2021 – HSBC chiefs to face MPs’ questions over Hong Kong protesters’ frozen accounts by Poppy Wood for City AM
21 Jan 2021 – MPs call on FCA to ‘hold bad advisers to account’ by Laura Purkess for CityWire
21 Jan 2021 – FCA told it lacks vision to tackle consumer issues by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
20 Jan 2021 – Mortgage Prisoner amendments blocked by Treasury, by Suleman Baig for Quadrin Group
18 Jan 2021 – Former Hong Kong lawmaker rejects HSBC’s explanation over frozen accounts by Reuters
18 Jan 2021 – Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Overturn UK’s First Unexplained Wealth Order by National Law Review
18 Jan 2021 – British Virgin Islands’ governor launches inquiry into alleged corruption by Patrick Wintour for the Guardian
18 Jan 2021 – What we learned from a bumper FCA data dump by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
18 Jan 2021 – Wall Street fears bubble from Biden stimulus as retail investing booms by Katherine Greifeld, Claire Ballentine and Vildana Hajric for Independent.ie
17 Jan 2021 – Bobby Kennedy was right: GDP is a poor measure of a nation’s health by Larry Elliott for the Guardian
15 Jan 2021 – Mortgage prisoners accuse Treasury of working against them as wider FCA remit blocked by Owain Thomas for Mortgage Solutions
14 Jan 2021 – MP Vows To Keep Pushing Tougher Economic Crime Law by Richard Crump for Law360
13 Jan 2021 – Mortgage prisoner finance bill amendments struck down by Gary Adams for Mortgage Strategy
12 Jan 2021 – Hong Kong families with money trapped in closed law firm’s frozen bank accounts turn to government for low-interest loans by for South China Morning Post
12 Jan 2021 – Bitcoin: be prepared to lose all your money, FCA warns consumers by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
11 Jan 2021 – Insolvency firms put under investigation after scandals, by Louisa Clarence-Smith for the Times
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 2021 – Bank of England fails to publish officials’ expenses by Alex Ralph for the Times
03 Jan 2021 – Five years on and still no answers over HBOS affair by Jill Treanor and Liam Kelly for Sunday Times
31 Dec 2020 – So, when WILL we learn truth about bank chiefs? Another year and still no sign of key HBOS probe by Lucy White for the Mail
24 Dec 2020 – ASIC drops investigation into Westpac, by Investor Daily in Australia
21 Dec 2020 – Financial Conduct Authority fines just ten wrongdoers this year by Patrick Hosking in the Times
19 Dec 2020 – Andrew Bailey could return to face MPs after damning report on London Capital & Finance scandal by Ben Martin & Patrick Hosking for the Times
18 Dec 2020 – Google urged to vet online financial promotions better by Huw Jones for Reuters
18 Dec 2020 – Financial Conduct Authority insiders warned of London Capital & Finance-style minibonds in 2013 but nothing was done by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard
18 Dec 2020 – Blue Gate escapes $13.5 million Connaught fund fine from FCA by Huw Jones for Reuters
18 Dec 2020 – Executives 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 2020 – The fallout from the financial regulator’s shocking failure on LC&F is not over yet by Nils Pratley for the Guardian
17 Dec 2020 – FCA 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 2020 – Former Financial Conduct Authority boss Bailey apologises over handling of mini-bond scandal by Ben Martin for the Times
16 Dec 2020 – EU cannot be ‘captured’ by City of London, warns financial services chief by Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden for the Financial Times
16 Dec 2020 – Treasurer plots ASIC shakeout by John Kehoe for Financial Review
15 Dec 2020 – How to remake Australia’s lame corporate watchdog by Pamela Hanrahan for Financial Review
08 Dec 2020 – MPs call for £2.6bn Equitable Life compensation by Adam Williams for the Telegraph
03 Dec 2020 – HMRC ‘treat the victims of pension scams like criminals’: Taxman has benefited from the ‘proceeds of crime’ MPs are told by Tom Kelly for Daily Mail
25 Nov 2020 – FSCS seeks extra £92m in interim levy by Daniela Esnerova for MoneyMarketing
25 Nov 2020 – Trump Administration Targets Banks Divesting From Fossil Fuels In New Anti-Climate Rule by Sharon Kelly for DeSmogBlog
23 Nov 2020 – Bank of England policymaker warns of ‘pandemic hangovers’, as private sector shrinks – as it happened by Graeme Wearden for the Guardian
16 Nov 2020 – Bank of England ‘failing’ on climate change reform by Philip Aldrick for the Times
16 Nov 2020 – Fed moves closer to joining global peers in climate-change fight by Ann Saphir for Reuters
14 Nov 2020 – Fraudsters will exploit Covid vaccine to con vulnerable, warns National Crime Agency by Charles Hymas for Telegraph
09 Nov 2020 – Ombudsman inundated with complaints about loans by Katherine Griffiths for the Times
09 Nov 2020 – Spike 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 2020 – How financial services watchdog has reacted to UK consumer worries in Covid by Hilary Osborne for Guardian
08 Nov 2020 – Five predictions for banking regulation in a Biden presidency by Jon Hill for Law 360
05 Nov 2020 – Martin Lewis warns of ‘epidemic of scams’ after ICU nurse loses £8,000 by Scott Edwards for Wales Online
05 Nov 2020 –FCA 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 2020 – Aviva’s shares fiasco highlights weakness of the city watchdog by Patrick Hosking for the Times
02 Nov 2020 – Banks 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 2020 – U.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
24 Oct 2020 – Banks look to debt collectors to recover bounce back loans by Nicholas Megaw, Stephen Morris and Daniel Thomas for the FT
23 Oct 2020 – Bank 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 2020 – HSBC froze £1.5bn of customers’ cash in ‘dormant accounts’ – report by Kalyeena Makortoff & Juliette Garside for the Guardian
22 Oct 2020 – Work 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 2020 – MPs 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
03 Oct 2020 – Record number of savers fall victim to investment fraud as scam adverts stay on Google by Andrew Ellson for The Times
02 Oct 2020 – A New Theory of Soil by Alex Varley-Winter for SustainAct
11 Sep 2020 – The Hut Group facing fresh questions over governance after it reveals one of country’s best-known private equity barons to oversee pay policy by Lucy White for the Daily Mail
10 Sep 2020 London Capital and Finance investors relieved after court ruling opens route to compensation claims by Ben Chapman for the Independent
08 Sep 2020 – Change in law needed to stop scams, says Timms, by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
05 Sep 2020 Crime Agency under fire over bank signature forgery by Andy Verity for BBC
24 Aug 2020 – Financial Conduct Authority rushes to minimise compensation for its failings by James Hurley for The Times
04 Aug 2020 – Have 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
31 Jul 2020 ‘Common sense’ prevails as pension freedom withdrawals fall 17% — But drop is expected to be ‘a short-term blip’ by Robbie Lawther for International Adviser
31 Jul 2020 – HMRC figures show plunging pension freedom withdrawals by Hope William-Smith for Professional Adviser
28 Jul 2020 – MPs launch inquiry into pension scams by Tom Kelly for Daily Mail ; UK 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
21 Jul 2020 Londongrad Calling: Is Europe’s Laundromat the ‘New Normal’? by Mark Conrad
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
14 May 2020 – Under Rising Pressure on Climate, JP Morgan Rejects Shareholders’ Calls to Disclose Carbon Footprint by Alex Varley-WInter for DeSmog
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 2020 – It’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
15 Aug 2019 – Victims hit by Connaught’s collapse blast City watchdog for ‘whitewashing’ independent review by Lucy White for Daily Mail
05 Aug 2019 – Plunder 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 2019 – Guernsey Stock Exchange disputes FCA account over Woodford by David Thorpe in FT Adviser
29 Mar 2019 – MPs 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 2016 – Solicitors suspended for roles in collapsed Brazilian investment scheme by Nick Hilborne for Legal Futures
23 Sep 2016 – Which? makes scams super-complaint by Adam French for Which?
08 Aug 2016 – The Latest Bank Interest Rate Scandal Signals A Crisis Of Australian Democracy by Professor Carl Rhodes for New Matilda