Financial watchdog FCA promises more clarity

London, July 10

Britain’s financial watchdog has promised to be clearer about how it decides whether to punish banks and individuals after industry criticism of inconsistency.

Lawyers say announcement is too light on alternatives to enforcement

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), launched in 2013 at a time of intense political pressure to clean up markets, has been levying record fines on banks after a string of misconduct and mis-selling scandals going back two decades or more.

FCA Chief Executive Martin Wheatley promised to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, a statement he later said he regretted.

The finance ministry asked the FCA to consider ways of being more open in deciding on punitive enforcement action after complaints from firms that the FCA was ‘arbitrary’. The ministry also asked the FCA to outline alternatives to punishments which include fines, bans and suspensions.

Lawyers, however, said announcement was too light on alternatives to enforcement and unlikely to lead to greater clarity or fewer cases.

“Firms and the public will now have a clearer understanding of the questions we ask ourselves before we start a formal investigation,” Georgina Philippou, FCA acting director of enforcement, said.

The FCA will ask itself three questions: would enforcement action further the watchdog’s aims; would it be proportionate; and what purpose or goal would be served in taking such action.

Alternatives to punishments could include swift remedial action such as agreeing to compensate customers immediately.

Angela Hayes, a financial services lawyer at King & Spalding, said the FCA was not signalling any real change in its approach.

“I am not convinced that the document published today will deliver what the Treasury requested, which is that individuals and firms who are referred into enforcement understand that the decision has been made fairly in all circumstances,” Hayes said.