I was going to dedicate this column to a timely look back at 2020 and a look forward to 2021 (see lower down). Then something happened.
The publication this week of the Dame Elizabeth Gloster Report into the FCA’s failings in regulating mini-bond firm London Capital & Finance was like a regulatory bomb exploding.
Like many, I had expected some criticism of the FCA, as I suspect the FCA did, but not a hugely damning near-500 page report.
You can read our story and the report here so I will not go into detail but Dame Elizabeth, a former judge, found weaknesses in the FCA’s regulatory processes from top to bottom. In essence, the FCA failed to regulate LCF properly.
The FCA has said it is “profoundly sorry” about the failings and has restructured some of its senior executive team, promised to introduce a package of nine major reforms in 2021 and generally pledged to tighten up its act.
So will anything change?
It’s fair to say that Dame Elizabeth has given the FCA a serious kick up the backside and it must respond, to some degree. It has to if we are to avoid yet another ‘time to replace the regulator’ debate.
Reading between the lines I get the impression that FCA was not expecting such a mauling. There was clearly some to-ing and fro-ing about the wording of Dame Elizabeth’s Report although she insists nothing of “substance” was changed.
The big question, of course, is will more investors in the failed London Capital & Finance firm get their money back?
It’s worth remembering that more than 11,600 investors lost £236m, £237m in some reports, by investing in rubbish mini-bonds flogged by LCF. Some lost a big chunk of their life savings and retirement nest eggs, convinced by glossy promotion and unrealistic claims.
On the same day the Gloster Report came out the FSCS sent out a press released stating that it had now paid out just over £50m to investors. That just leaves a shortfall of about £186m. It reminds us that most investors are still nursing huge losses.
However, because investors lost money in what were mostly non-regulated investments compensation remains a tricky issue and the Gloster Report does not resolve this. Buying an LCF mini-bond was the motor equivalent of (unknowingly) driving a car without insurance. That’s effectively the FCA and FSCS line.
Even so, I believe the Gloster Report now makes it more likely that the FSCS will look more favourably on claims. I would expect that £50m compensation tally to rise. As it should.
• What a year! I can sum up 2020 and 2021 up quite easily. 2020 – a ‘disaster’ but with new ways of working and living that will endure. 2021 – barring a major setback the vaccines offer hope and I would expect a slow but steady return to normality and recovery, particularly in the second half. Don’t give up that office lease just yet.
• That’s all from me this year. Thank you for your comments about this column and simply just for reading. I hope there has been the odd bit of useful insight here and there. Have as good a Christmas as you can despite the restrictions and go easy on the Brussels sprouts. An extra glass of fizz is permissible this year.
• Get 50% off a subscription to Financial Planning Today Magazine for a limited time by using code ’50SAVER’ and get a host of benefits. https://www.financialplanningtoday.co.uk/fp-today-magazine.
Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks. Follow @FPT_Kevin