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Home > Opinion > Dennis Hall

Be wary of the regulator with a blind eye

Giving ‘super powers’ to the regulator to allow it to shut down harmful investments cannot come soon enough, in my opinion.

By Dennis Hall | Published Nov 07, 2012 | Regulation | comments

There are times and circumstances when consumers really need a decent, effective regulator but, unfortunately, these are often the times when the regulator is looking the other way. How many vulnerable people need to be deprived of their life savings before the regulator (or anyone else for that matter) sits up, takes notice, and does something? One is too many but on past performance it will take a lot more than that.

Last week I was contacted by a friend who casually asked me to take a look at something his father had unwittingly got mixed up in – carbon credits. His father had been cold-called by a firm selling carbon credits as an investment, and the next thing he was more than £50,000 worse off.

For some perverse reason it appears perfectly legal for a non-regulated firm to set up and promote carbon credit schemes to ordinary members of the public, and do so without the regulator being involved because the sale of carbon credits is not regulated. This is despite the fact that they are promoted as ‘investments’.

You may say that a fool and his money are soon parted, and it serves them right. But this is not just a hard-luck story. This is a man in his 80s, suffering from mild dementia and Alzheimer’s, who has scrimped and saved throughout retirement to amass this money for the sake of a mentally-ill adult dependent. Healthwise his wife is not doing much better, partially deaf and crippled by back pain. Proud people who have taken little from the state, left high and dry because they have been scammed by a high-pressure salesman with the gift of the gab, and unprotected because of an ineffective regulator.

Read the weekend press and the blogs and you will find similar stories. The elderly and the vulnerable scammed by land banking schemes, carbon credit schemes, and other get rich quick investment schemes. All these dodgy schemes are operating with impunity because the regulator is looking the other way. Just like it was when the banks were selling worthless subprime loans, all packaged up as triple A-rated investments.

Giving ‘super powers’ to the regulator to allow it to shut down harmful investments cannot come soon enough, in my opinion.

Giving ‘super powers’ to the regulator to allow it to shut down harmful investments cannot come soon enough, in my opinion.

Yet the cynic in me thinks it would shirk its responsibilities and go for the easy wins. Let us face it, it has hardly covered itself in glory when it comes to preventing consumers from losses and it is only any good at closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. When the regulator tells people to be “very afraid” I fear it is warning the consumer rather than the financial criminal.

Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning

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