Go to immediately jail, do not pass go

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers & Paraplanners

7 Jan 2019

Go to immediately jail, do not pass go

On day two of 2019 yet another IFA has been jailed for fraud. Neil Bartlett, 53, of Delamere Road, Ainsdale, used £4.5m of his victims’ money to fund some of the usual, favoured by all fraudsters, indulgencies of foreign travel, top hotels, prostitutes, exotic cars, boats and gambling.

In this case, again, like so many others, it involved investing other people’s money, pensions and often life savings into what they thought was a safe investment account with interest.

By safe, that means it is being paid to the advisory firm to disperse according to the advice plan. But in a not uncommon twist, Bartlett had created a sole trader account with the same name as the company he worked for and paid himself the money.

It is clear that in just about every case of fraud it involves client money being paid to a client account for onward distribution. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred all goes as intended but it is the one time that results in what we see again and again in client money fraud.

Readers may wish to Google search (other search engines are available- in BBC speak) fraud IFA 2018 where the scale of this fiscal disembowelling can be viewed. It is in millions and guess how it is dealt with?

This type of fraud is called, in legal vernacular a ’Serious large-scale confidence fraud’. A common factor is the targeting of known to be vulnerable victims. Also, they will often be multiple frauds, i.e. many victims are deceived in the same way.

As an example, this accusation could be levelled at the victims of the British Steel pension fund debacle.

These offences are usually charged under the Fraud Act where the maximum sentence permitted by law is 10 years imprisonment.

For this adviser’s type of fraud, sentences of up to 7 years are common if the fraud is in excess of £500,000.

For the now ex IFA, the sentence will see early release for being a good ‘boy’.

I am not sure if the FSCS ever try to recover from the now ex IFAs or indeed if asset confiscation is possible to offset some of the redress, but one thing is for sure, no matter what regulation is put in place, what checks are made, the opportunity is still there for this practice to continue.

When I was a broker consultant in the early ‘80’s, some IFA firms, referred to then as brokers, had client accounts’ and operated something I recall as being broker bonds. A bit like a wrap or platform investment in a way but it was in house.

I cannot recall any frauds but there were regulatory concerns and also concern from my employer at the time that this holding of client money where the investment was in an inhouse designed and built vehicle could be subject to abuse.

So, role on and working lifetime and fraud opportunity continues in abundance. The cost to clients when the opportunity is exploited is massive, the cost to the compliant firms is huge too and of course unexpected when the FSCS come calling.

The time has come to put a stop to regulated firms holding client money when the intended destination is to a regulated providers funds, wraps, platforms. As an extra measure, despite all the good arguments put forward by IFAs, regulated firms should NOT be allowed to deal in unregulated activity or markets, this would relieve the burden on PI insurers, FCSC calls and IFA firms when a regulated advice firm advises upon unregulated products. Unregulated products are often just that for a reason.

The ability of consumers to execute instant electronic transfer of funds really renders holding client money an unnecessary and expensive temptation. To stop this would see PI and other regulatory costs reduce and go some way to restoring trust in an industry, sorry, profession, that has taken a battering and will continue to do so every time money ends up in the hands of someone or something it should not.

Just a thought.

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