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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In the business of crime there’s two people involved

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

13 Oct 2017

In the business of crime there’s two people involved

It was during this same month six years ago that I first read with some dismay, but an overall lack of surprise, that the then FSA had opted not to license or pre-approve financial services products, due to what it claimed were a “lack of resources”.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone reading this that back in 2011 the consumer had already faced considerable detriment as a result of financial products such as PPI. And the regulator’s helpful response almost every time was to point out flaws in product design, marketing or understanding of the product – all with the benefit of hindsight.

Fast forward to 2017 and the same issues rumble on as a result of the regulator’s inaction to preapprove products before they are made available to consumers. Around this time last week, for example, the news broke that the FSCS had begun accepting claims for bad investment advice in relation to a failed property scheme Harlequin.

Anyone invested in Harlequin would have, at first, been deemed ineligible for FSCS compensation as the product would have been considered a direct investment. But the FSCS reviewed this position and found new evidence that the Harlequin products likely fall under the banner of unregulated collective investment schemes (UCIS), which qualifies them for FSCS protection. The FSCS is also already paying claims against firms for bad mortgage advise and pension switching, if the underlying investment was in a Harlequin resort.

If I’ve said this once I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll keep doing so in the hope that one day the regulator will finally see the light: regulation should not be about being wise after the event. It should be about utilising experience when things going wrong to make sure mistakes and failures do not happen again. To licence a product as fit for purpose, with that purpose clearly defined, as part of the regulatory process is the surely best way of achieving this? I’d even go one step further to say it’s the single most effective consumer benefit a regulator could put in place.

The situation with Harlequin, and most other examples for that matter, are always about the advice and not the product. The FCA has been careful to point out that any adviser recommending Harlequin was expected to have carried out thorough due diligence on any Harlequin investments “to fully satisfy themselves that it is a suitable investment”.

In no way aim I suggesting due diligence isn’t a crucial part of the advice process but let’s consider a slightly different approach for a moment. If products were regulated from the outset, and advisers regulated by the FCA were not allowed to engage, at all, with unregulated products – commission paying or not – problems and losses such as this would not happen. And crucially, the tab would not have to be picked up by the FSCS.

I’ve been suspicious for a long time now that the FCA’s decision back in 2011 was really nothing to do with resource and instead was all about responsibility and, ultimately, who the finger points at when things go wrong. Sadly, this latest development in the Harlequin case only confirms my suspicions yet again. It seems that without something to bash the regulator would perhaps feel it has no purpose, or as Keith Richards of the Rolling Stone’s, not PFS, once said of the policing system, “in the business of crime there’s two people involved, and that’s the criminal and the cops. It’s in both their interests to keep crime a business, otherwise they’re both out of a job.”

Some have suggested that the resource needed by the FCA to pre-approve products would have resulted in a huge increase in fees. But then there’s the alternative, logical, argument that perhaps if products were licenced there would be fewer failures to fund? Just a thought…

FSCS levy and some blue sky thinking

Regulation comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

31 Oct 2016

FSCS levy and some blue sky thinking.

We hear that the new chief executive, Andrew Bailey, has confirmed the introduction of a product levy will be considered as part of the regulator’s upcoming consultation on the funding of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

The time is right for Mr. Bailey to also consider (alongside this very sensible idea that always seems to get ‘kicked’ into the long grass) the use, or in reality, the miss use of banking fines in this consultation?

FCA fines were to be used to offset the cost of regulation. But not any more.

Why, well here’s the thing as they say.

Over the last century or two the nations wealth and success was built on our vast below ground natural resources.

Coal, tin, oil, sand, cement, gravel extraction have all played their part but many fear that these resources have a limited life as dwindling stocks make it more expensive to recover.

Alongside all natural resources there is a tax raising opportunity but if stocks of natural resource reduce or become exhausted this will, in turn, see tax revenues reduce and that spells trouble for HM Treasury.

But the nation has turned to another ‘natural resource’ because of some very clever HM Treasury ‘fine-fracking’ on the part of the last government

This table contains the FCA’s own information about fines published during the calendar year ending 2016 and up to the 12th October.

The total amount of fines levied so far in 2016 is £22,127,442.

  • In 2015 £905,219,078 was levied
  • And in 2014 £1,471,431,800 was levied.

The FCA will deduct its costs from these huge amounts and the rest will go to HM Treasury. The FCA was obliged by statute to pay away £1.370bn of the 2014 fines to the Treasury, the equivalent of 70% of all alcohol and tobacco levies for 2014.

In April this year the FSCS announced a £337m levy for 2016/17.

The FSCS levy in 2015/16 totaled £319m.

So over the last 3 years some £2.4bn in fines has been levied that could have seen zero FSCS levy for a good number of years with the polluter paying. Just do the math!

Banking fines should be used to reduce the burden of regulatory cost, in particular that of the ‘oh so’ contentious FSCS levy that hits, in particular, small IFA businesses the hardest.

Any thoughts yourself?

Do let us know here via our quick survey, details will be shared with Mr. Bailey.

FSCS and the release of data, your data

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

24 Oct 2016

FSCS and the release of data, your data

Advisers may be concerned to know about the continued, contentious handling of personal data by the FSCS where claims are received.

In particular where the adviser has retired and the firm in question was NOT in default of the scheme some 20 years later.

With regulators looking at personal responsibility from company directors, in the words of Hector Sants, all advisers should be very afraid, and to the grave it would seem?

When a ‘consumer’ approaches the FSCS (looking to claim compensation) as the firm from whom advice was obtained is no longer trading and not in default (as the adviser has retired) the FSCS, if requested by the ‘consumer’, is releasing information as to the whereabouts of that now retired adviser, whether or not the adviser has consented to that release.

In correspondence seen, the FSCS is stating that it has the right to release such data when requested; quoting guidance it says it has from the Information Commissioners office (ICO).

This states, “ Where the FSCS has rejected a claim for solvency reasons (firm not in default) and the consumer wishes to pursue a claim, disclosure is permitted under the Data Protection Act 1998.

They go on to refer to the fact that they have received guidance from the ICO to that effect- providing this summary. 

Now here is the situation, and advisers should rightly be very concerned as this could happen to anyone and illustrates only too well the need for a longstop.

The date of the advice being claimed against (relating in this case to affordability surrounding a mortgage protection policy with CI) was in 1997, almost 20 years ago.

If the firm was in default and the FSCS did accept such a complaint, it would be dismissed as they do recognise the longstop.

The advisory firm- a partnership in this case, closed in a correct way in 1998 with full PIA regulatory approval and it is not in FSCS default.

The adviser made it clear that he did not wish his address to be given and he gave some specific, valid reasons in response to the FSCS’s asking.

These reasons were dismissed out of hand, without any explanation as to why other than to refer to ICO guidance.

The adviser told the FSCS that he would complain to the ICO. He felt it was unfair to release his details when the firm was not in default and that the complaint would have been dismissed under FIMBRA, PIA and FSA rules as well as the FSCS own rules by way of being out of time on so many levels, including the FSCS’s own application of a longstop.

As a result the FSCS then advised the ICO, to whom that complaint about data release was made, that the complaint was made to “delay the consumer in getting compensation”.

The FSCS, in saying it can release data so long after the date of the advice being given, reasons that “considerable weight has to be given to the legitimate interests of the customer”.

In this case the decision seems very unfair, surely the adviser has rights too?

Tell us what you think about the FSCS and especially their funding in this short survey, have they got it right? We think they have not.

Do you?

April fool, decide for yourself?

 

April fool, decide for yourself?

All advisory firms in a post RDR world have had to look carefully at their proposition, segment their client base and decide what to charge their clients taking into account the underlying costs of running their business.

This would include things like staff cost, regulation, accountancy, capital adequacy, legal, utilities, insurances, office premises, FSCS, taxes, NI, pension contributions etc.

These numbers would then be incorporated into some P&L software and in Mr. Micawber speak, doing the ‘math’ on the tried and tested formula of “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six pence, result misery”, and see what the outcome is for them.

Financial advisers in fee block A013 may be interested to know that for the fee year 2015/16 the latest forecast for FCA regulatory fees to be invoiced was £74.85m.

So, with this thought in mind, we asked if the regulator could confirm what it actually costs to regulate this group of adviser firms.

The reply should be the cause of some concern.

  • Dear Mr. Bradley
  • Freedom of Information : Right to know request
  • Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for information aboutFCA Regulatory Fees, specifically:
  • The amount levied in FCA regulatory fees for firms in the A013 category (Advisory only firms and advisory, arrangers, dealers, or brokers) in 2015.
  • The actual cost incurred by the FCA for regulating those same firms in the A13 category (Advisory only firms and advisory, arrangers, dealers, or brokers) in 2015)”
  • Following a search of our paper and electronic records I am writing to tell you that we do not hold the exact information you are seeking, for the reasons set out below.
  • Point 1: We have still to complete our invoicing for the fee year 2015/16, but our latest forecast for FCA regulatory fees to be invoiced in respect of A13 fee block for the period is £74.85m.
  • Point 2: We no longer carry out an exercise where the actual costs are calculated against each fee block compared with the fees invoiced. We consulted on stopping this exercise, referred to as a ‘true up’ exercise in CP10/5 (March 2010) Chapter 9 paragraphs 9.16 to 9.20 http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/cp/cp10_05.pdf. We did not receive any objections to that proposal.
  • The amount of our annual funding requirement (AFR) allocated to fee-blocks is based on where we plan to use our resources in the next fee-year. We consult on the fee-rates to recover these allocations in our annual March fees-rates consultation paper (CP) and feedback on responses in a June Policy Statement. For 2015/16 the allocation to the A013 fee-block was confirmed as £74.9m in Policy Statement PS15/15 Chapter 2 which includes our feedback on responses to the March CP.http://www.fca.org.uk/static/documents/policy-statements/ps15-15.pdf.

 

If I may draw on another Dickens quote from ‘Little Dorrit, “I am the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything; for whom what could not be weighed, measured, and priced, had no existence.”

The FCA, who seem to have a data metric on just about anything and everything cannot quantify what it costs to regulate this fee group?

I find this hard to believe. A regulated firm would not be deemed fit and proper if it had no idea of what it costs to run their business.

The time has come for some openness. To simply say that “We no longer carry out an exercise where the actual costs are calculated against each fee block compared with the fees invoiced” is just not good enough. This is a simple P&L exercise surely?

And as for not getting any objections to their ‘true up’ exercise, I think they should assume that they might well have one or two now.

This is NOT an April Fool.

Panacea’s input to the financial advice market review (FAMR)

In November, I was asked by Harriet Baldwin MP (who many may remember came to a Panacea ‘Meet the MP’s event” shortly after her election in 2010) to contribute to the HM Treasury Financial Advice Market Review (FAMR) due to the size, influence and knowledge of the Panacea community.

The Financial Advice Market Review, as you will be well aware, was launched in August 2015 to examine how financial advice could work better for consumers. It is co-chaired by Tracey McDermott and Charles Roxburgh, Director General of Financial Services at HM Treasury.

The meeting with HMT’s Tara Fernando and some treasury seconded FCA officials lasted some ninety minutes where a number of concerns with regard to the five specific FAMR reference sources were discussed for the benefit of the consultation.

There was a great willingness to listen.

It was very clear that there was a considerable lack of understanding around many issues of IFA concern. I think this is because there is a knowledge gap, possibly caused by a failure or desire to fully understand how intermediated distribution works and why. And to understand advice responsibility anomalies such as the current lack of longstop.

It is also clear that regulators do not understand that savings and protection products are sold to the mass market, not actively purchased.

The Treasury and the FCA appear to have no knowledge of the workings or long history of commission payments, the maximum commission agreement or its reason for removal.

You may find the following bullet points with some supporting links, that were the subject of some detailed conversation, to be of interest:

1. The extent and causes of the advice gap for those people who do not have significant wealth or income 

  • Heath Report an overview, access to the report and podcast
  • Commission v Fee the RDR/ GFK report
  • Fees and the post RDR world
  • UK advice & distribution model
  • The FCA was trumpeting the fact that adviser numbers had gone up since RDR and the industry should as a result rejoice.
  • From January 2012 to July 2013 23,406 registered individuals (RI’s) have left the industry and 9,573 have joined.
  • For 2014, 5,979 RI’s have moved firm, 6,799 are no longer authorised and 4,576 have become authorised. Some 17,332 changes in one year and a 2,223 net loss of RI’s. Hardly something to shout about.

2. The regulatory or other barriers firms may face in giving advice and how to overcome them

  • Cost, known’s and unknowns, FSCS funding is wrong, unpredictable and unfair.
  • PI cover, retrospection of regulation makes pricing impossible, a claim makes even getting it a herculean task (air bag analogy)
  • New blood, the aspiration of many to start a new advisory firm has been dampened to say the least. The costs are enormous.
  • FOS perceived bias FOS survey, a link to 2014 survey and to the 2011 survey
  • FOS has no affordable right of appeal, unlike ABTA for example
  • Longstop removal and some other notes on the subject. Regulators today are in many ways a ‘doppelganger’ of the trade unions of the 1970’s, creating unrealistic, restrictive working practices at high cost allowing little or no competition. And we all know how that ended.
  • Many small firms live in fear of the FCA and will not raise their heads above a paparapit to voice concerns for fear of retribution. Very worrying but perhaps ‘Sir Hector’s message was received and understood
  • The ‘Waterbed effect’. It’s effect is the natural but not necessarily intended potential to squeeze one part of a complicated and complex regulated business model (and the attendant regulatory processes) to cause a serious bulge elsewhere in the process.

3.  How to give firms the regulatory clarity and create the right environment for them to innovate  and grow

4. The opportunities and challenges presented by new and emerging technologies to provide cost-effective, efficient and user-friendly advice services,

  • Simplified advice, but what is it- needs defining
  • A solution: to licence a product as fit for purpose, with that purpose clearly defined, as part of the process is the single most effective consumer benefit a regulator could put in place. It is the CAA equivalent of being fit to fly, it is the Food Standards Agency equivalent of safe to eat, it is the VOSA equivalent of saying your car is safe to drive.

5. How to encourage a healthy demand side for financial advice, including addressing barriers which put consumers off seeking advice

  • Consumers should understand that advice comes at a price but that price and the method of how it is actually paid should be determined by the client and adviser firm together and not a regulator.
  • Is commission still a dirty word?
  • Maximum Commission Agreement (MCA) during the 1980s and perhaps earlier there was an apparent unresolved conflict in government policy between investor protection and the belief in unrestricted competition. OFT objected!
  • Pro bono working in IFA firms was the norm in a pre RDR world
  • It is not in a post RDR world
  • The circle game? FSA told consumers advice under RDR wouldn’t cost more. Right possibly, but fewer now have access to it

The review will close on the 22nd December 2015, you have just a few more days to contribute.

Here is a link.

FSCS funding, the third way

The Tory party conference can always be relied upon to deliver some interesting sound bites.

One of the better ones for the financial adviser community was the most welcomed observation from Mark Garnier MP who sits on the Treasury Select Committee and has done so for some five years.

I know Mark and have met with him on a number of occasions. He seems a very decent, intelligent, forward thinking guy.

So when hearing and welcoming the news that he felt that banking fines should be used to reduce the burden of regulatory cost, in particular that of the FSCS levy, perhaps a further consideration for Mark is to investigate is why are the fines so very large and not levied on individuals? The reality, I suspect, is that these fines are not a punishment, they are just a tax revenue raising opportunity that nobody could possibly object to…..ever?

Over the last century or two the nations wealth and success was built on our vast below ground natural resources.

Coal, tin, oil, sand, cement, gravel extraction have all played their part but many fear that these resources have a limited life as dwindling stocks make it more expensive to recover.

Of course with all natural resources there is also a tax raising opportunity but if stocks of natural resource reduce or become exhausted this will, in turn, see tax revenues reduce and that spells trouble for HM Treasury.

But we need no longer fear where the nation will turn to get more ‘natural resources’ from because of some very clever HM Treasury ‘fine fracking’ on the part of the last government.

He is 100% correct in saying that a debate was needed about where the money went.

For those that have no idea on the sheer magnitude of banking fines, this may help in understanding where they go and why.

A decision taken by Parliament on 27th February 2013 has seen a very big fiscal ‘gusher’ explode out of the ground in the form of 2014 banking fines being paid away to HM Treasury.

Banking fines levied by the FCA in 2014 were £1.462bn.

To put some contextual scale to this massive amount, the total revenue raised for alcohol and tobacco in 2014 was £1.97bn- that equates to 4% of total UK taxation revenues according to HMRC figures.

The FCA was obliged by statute to pay away £1.370bn of the fines the Treasury, the equivalent of 70% of all alcohol and tobacco levies for 2014.

In the run up to the May 2015 election this is where the money was spent according to a reply to a Panacea FOI request reply:

£35,000,000 to the Armed Forces

£10,000,000 to Armed Forces covenant

£40,000,000 toward veterans’ accommodation

£20,000,000 to Childcare, but exactly what is not known

£10,000,000 to medical training, again, exactly what is not known

£10,000,000 to Blue Light charities, exactly which is not known

£10,000,000 to Youth United

£5,000,000 to the Imperial War Museum/ WW1 gallery refurbishments

£ 1,100,000 an approximate VAT rebate for the Tower of London poppies sale to allow more money raised to go to charity. This is not a government donation. It is a fine redistribution and a very cynical play upon public sentiment and the war dead of WW1.

That gave a grand total of £141,000,000 going toward good causes leaving a pre election pot of £1.322bn left over.

Note, no money to MAS, FSCS or Pensionwise- the most morally obvious homes for such largesse.

I wish Mark and his TSC colleagues well but fear that the Manchester conference sound bite will fall on very deaf ears at HM Treasury.

The only real worry for HM Treasury will be what to do if the banks rehabilitate themselves.