Opinion  

Where was the fine for £4m commission scam advisers?

Michael Trudeau

The regulator has really been swinging the axe in the last couple of weeks, but between the Lloyds fine on one hand and yesterday’s (18 December) quadruple ban on the other, it’s left me oddly dissatisfied.

We have already talked about how the Lloyds fine - which to be fair was in the works with the old Financial Services Authority - probably won’t make a lick of difference to the individuals involved.

Without this personal consequence, it’s questionable how effective the action will prove to be.

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Now with the FCA’s banning of four after some seriously dodgy commission-grabbing that saw pension schemes recommended to invest in inappropriate and high-risk investments in order to generate £4m in kick-backs for the protagonists, I’m left feeling slightly unfulfilled yet again.

Here is the thing: the action on Lloyds was just a fine when swingeing bans were also needed; in the case of CBW Trustees Ltd and CBW Pensions Forensics Ltd it seems to be solely a ban when something more is equally necessary.

To be fair to the regulator, the FCA spokesperson made a very interesting point when explaining the logic behind banning these four gentlemen without fining them.

He said that because money from fines now goes to the Treasury, this might not effectively meet the regulator’s consumer protection objective because it would leave the investors out of pocket at the end of the day.

Instead, the regulators (The FCA and The Pensions Regulator together) banned them to make sure they didn’t do it again, and have now set about trying to recover the investors’ assets.

Don’t get me wrong, that sounds a great outcome for the investors. I’m sure they would rather have their money back than hand it to the government, and when it comes to protecting consumers it is the right thing to do - in the short term.

But I’m not sure I get it. According to the notices the commission was paid to the individuals, so recovering the assets from the dodgy schemes doesn’t mean these guys haven’t rich and got away with it, albeit with a ban.

Yes, in a best-case scenario the investors will get most or all of their money back, but for all we know these four people would have still walked away with £4m in combined ill-gotten commission. Where is the strong arm of the regulator making an example of those giving our industry a bad name?

I tried to find out if the commission was among the money being recovered by the administrator, Pitmans. I really did.

It wasn’t mentioned in the FCA notices or in the TRP decision notice from 2011. So I called the FCA, who didn’t know. The FCA said to call TPR, who also didn’t know. TRP said to call Pitmans, who also didn’t know. Pitmans said to call their PR, who - you guessed it - also didn’t know. The PR said she’d get someone to call me, but wasn’t sure if he was the right person anyway.