Treasury Select Committee’s (TSC) meeting with the FCA – 25/06/2019

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The following is a brief overview of the TSC’s meeting with the FCA on 25th June 2019.

Woodford Investment Management

Unsurprisingly, the highly anticipated subject of Woodford Investment Management’s (WIM) shortcomings was the first topic for discussion at the meeting.

The following observations are FSTP’s own view of the possible implications of Woodford Investment Management’s demise (we still don’t know what we don’t know and feel this subject has got some distance to run before all the facts are known).

Key points:

  • This failure of a retail fund will have serious and lasting impact on the operation of Asset Management in the UK.
  • It throws into sharp relief the requirements falling out of the FCA’s Asset Management Market Study, in particular the need for independent Non-Executive Directors (NED) to challenge at Authorised Fund Manager (AFM) level and the production of qualitative value for money statements for all UK funds.
  • From what we heard, we suspect there will be changes to the rules governing the liquidity of funds which retail investors are able to invest in.
  • Andrew Bailey (FCA’s CEO) highlighted the Regulator’s view that European Union (EU) legislation has failed to manage retail funds. However, FSTP is concerned about an over reliance on principles based regulation (i.e. living within the ‘spirit of the rules’) in this area of Financial Services. Our clients operating in this arena are always looking for clarity and are generally welcoming of prescriptive rules in this area.
  • Despite the introduction of formalised rules on product governance via MiFID II’s implementation in January 2018, distributor/manufacturer relationships and due diligence arrangements appear to be falling well short of regulatory expectations. We surmise that this is likely to result in a greater degree of regulatory intervention.
  • The remuneration of individuals will attract the attention of the wider media and public as this situation develops. In this instance the Senior Managers and major beneficiaries of fees charged are one and the same. On the face of it there appears to be precious little individual accountability and a lack of challenge by others – the prevailing attitude seemingly being, “We pay ourselves what we think we are worth”. However, when that premise is built upon the investments of retail investors (bear in mind how much pension fund money will be tied up here) there has to be a day of reckoning. The message? If you are not providing retail investors with the service they have been led to expect, you cannot continue to reward yourselves so disproportionately. In short, Senior Managers must now be seen to be taking a more overt, moral stand on what is right and fair.

Bailey was very strict to follow what he’s already told the media and the Committee’s Chair Nicky Morgan’s question, “Does anyone at the FCA read the papers and listen to what’s going on in the industry?” received a curt reply.

The question, “Is it a failure of rules, or a failure of FCA supervision?” received a straight forward response of, “A failure of rules”, with Bailey’s reasoning being that whilst WIM has often had long periods of strong performance and long periods of poor performance, in this instance it is has not been able to save the situation, or the many reputations that have been tarnished as a result.

The responsibilities of Link – the AFM for Woodford Funds – was centred on by Bailey who reiterated the regulatory contact that is now well publicised. The Committee observed that Link – previously owned by Capita – did not have a good record of managing Investment Managers on behalf of investors, given they were at the centre of the Arch Cru issues. (N.B. An article in the FT on 25 June alleges that the FCA pressured WIM into using the services of Link – as the largest provider of ACD services – in order for the necessary regulatory permissions to be granted).

The relationship between WIM and Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) was raised by the Committee and it became obvious that once the immediate issue of fund liquidity is resolved, a review of the relationship between distributors and manufacturers will be instigated. (N.B at the Investment Association’s annual Policy Conference on Wednesday (26 June) Morgan remarked that the methodology behind Wealth 50’s composition raised questions as to whether customers are being treated fairly, after the TSC received a letter from HL confirming that its influential Wealth 50 list was not solely compiled on performance and that WIM’s inclusion on the list, despite under performance, was impacted by fee discounts offered to the platform).

Justice for individuals

A common theme throughout the discussion was ‘justice for individuals’. There is a high degree of dissatisfaction with the complexity of regulation and the consequent lack of clarity for consumers and practitioners alike, with the suggestion being made for the FCA to sort their impenetrable verbiage as most people don’t understand certain aspects such as T&Cs. This concept was understood by attendees from the FCA, who proceeded to mention that they do have enough resources to deal with all issues, and a review of systems and capabilities needs to be looked into.

The FCA was forced to comment on its responsibilities under the Equality Act, bearing in mind TSC’s disappointment with the Regulator’s response to the report, ‘Consumers’ Access to Financial Services’, published by the Committee in May 2019. FCA’s Chairman, Charles Randell, stated that this is, “By no means us saying we don’t take our responsibility to consumer vulnerability very seriously”.

Culture

Culture was brought into question and Randell mentioned that the FCA’s focus is shifting to outcomes supported by principles. After some bad tempered exchanges Rushanara Ali, MP quipped, “Some would argue that you are not tough enough with bank bosses…are you too nice to bankers. Is it better to be feared, than liked or loved?” Bailey’s quick response of, “I don’t get up in the morning hoping people will love me”, will surely resonate for some time. He also added the FCA has 650 investigations currently underway, compared to the 250 when he took on the role.

Brexit

Of course, Brexit did rear its head and Bailey made frequent references throughout the discussion to the fact that regardless of the issues raised and the revisions suggested, Brexit will have a big impact on the FCA’s plans, such as the intended investment in data analytics. However there will be one area that can be assured of relatively no change post-Brexit, the Senior Managers & Certification Regime – it was made clear that the Regime will be implemented in its entirety.

And finally…

Overall, Bailey and Randell held their own against some intense questioning, but one wonders how much Bailey’s ambition to be the next Governor of the Bank of England tempered his responses.

Lydia Francis

Marketing Co-ordinator

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