That’s the picture ex-FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, painted at this week’s Treasury Committee hearing on the disaster that was, and is, London Capital & Finance (LCF).
It’s worth remembering that LCF ripped off more than 11,600 investors by encouraging them to invest a total of £236m in non-regulated ‘mini-bonds’ before it collapsed. Only a small percentage have so far been compensated since the firm collapsed in early 2019.
One of the most important revelations he made was that among the 200,000 calls fielded by the call centre some 600 or so were about LCF. That’s 50 a month.
Unfortunately the FCA had no “mechanism”, as he put it, to extract these ‘red flags’ or early warnings from the avalanche of calls being received. If it had had a robust system in place at least some LCF clients could have been protected better.
Mr Bailey, being grilled by MPs, accepted that things should have been better and the horrendous problems led to substantial changes at the call centre now renamed the supervision hub. He’s already apologised to investors but does not accept ‘culpability’ for the fiasco.
It is, of course, somewhat ironic that a regulatory body that has made so much effort in recent years to promote fintech, Artificial Intelligence and the like fell down when it came to its own tech. While 600 calls may have been only a small part of its call ‘mountain’ I am surprised that no manager seems to have flagged up problems with LCF earlier.
Either way the FCA did not coat itself in glory. It was lacking in its fundamental ability to spot ‘consumer detriment’ - as it often calls it.
So what will prevent the next LCF? One important factor is that, we are told, the FCA call centre is now central to supervision and not seeminly a mostly ignored ‘silo’ for disgruntled investors. The FCA has also banned the promotion of unregulated mini-bonds. So there is some progress.
For the poor LCF investors there’s less progress, a small number have got their money back but many wait pensively for the FSCS deliberations. I imagine it’s an anxious wait.
If there was one positive aspect of Mr Bailey’s Treasury Committee questioning it was the hint from him that fraud investigations are under way. We must hope that those responsible will soon be called to account for their actions.