20Nov

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) took over as principal regulator of the UK’s financial services industry in April 2013, promising to be very different to its predecessor the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

So what evidence have we seen of this so far? The FCA has issued some 86 Final Notices – notices of disciplinary action against regulated firms – since its foundation, with total fines imposed exceeding £300 million. However, the number of such notices issued by the FSA in its final eight months of operation was actually higher than this.

Most of the £300 million is accounted for by a few large fines against investment banks – JP Morgan Chase was fined £137.6 million for market abuse and Rabobank was fined £105 million for manipulation of LIBOR. However, the advisory sector has also felt the force of the FCA – network Sesame was fined £6.2 million for failing to prevent unsuitable advice, while Andrew Jeffery was forced to pay £150,000 for insurance fraud and making false statements to the FCA. In addition to the fine, which represents a significant amount for a sole trader, Mr Jeffery was banned from working in financial services.

Mark Bentley-Leek, and his business partner Mustafa Dervish, of Bentley-Leek Financial Management, were also banned for irregularities in property transactions. Numerous other financial advisers have lost their authorisations for failing to submit returns to the FCA, or failing to pay fees due.

However, some may remark upon the fact that major high street banks have escaped the censure of the FCA since its inception, although it should be noted that, in its final months, the FSA did impose significant fines on Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland for LIBOR manipulation. Lloyds Banking Group is reportedly under investigation as a result of findings by an undercover journalist regarding its handling of payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints.

There is also no evidence so far of the FCA using some of its other powers. The new regulator was granted the power to ban poorly designed products from being sold at an early stage, whereas previously, the FSA could take action against firms who failed to comply with its rules when selling products such as PPI, but was powerless to prevent a product with fundamental flaws being sold.

Back in September 2012, FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley spoke of the need for a new approach when he said: “When it comes to dealing with problems, regulators in the past just looked at what has happened. We will find out why it has happened. It is obvious to me that you cannot get to the bottom of what is causing harm unless you deal with the root causes of problems and the wider issues that run across firms.”

The FCA also now issues ‘Warning Notices’ when it starts an investigation of a regulated firm, but unlike with Final Notices, does not display these prominently on its website.