Four things I learned from damning FCA report

Peter Walker

Earlier today the Financial Conduct Authority published law firm Clifford Chance’s report into the regulator’s handling of a life insurance review press briefing. Here we pick through the finer details of the 200+ page document to give you the most interesting information.

Clive Adamson didn’t give the interview

One of the key findings of the review is how the FCA’s media strategy spectacularly backfired. It appears the The Telegraph was given an exclusive advanced briefing, as the regulator sought to avoid the nature and scope of the life insurance review being misunderstood when it was announced for the first time in the Business Plan on 31 March.

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The review was a “discovery” piece of work to obtain information about the nature and extent of exit charges and whether they might inhibit customers from switching. Although it made no reference to a review of exit fees, there was a rather prescient concern that it would be misinterpreted as such.

Following the Budget, those working on the life insurance review in the supervision division got nervous about the Telegraph briefing.

Views expressed via email included “my view is that we shouldn’t do a press story on this” and it “just piles misery on life companies”, with express reference made to the impact of the Budget on share prices.

Despite these concerns, director of communications Zitah McMillan (who is leaving the regulator along with Clive Adamson; coincidence?) led discussions that stories would be “safe” and not controversial, according to Martin Wheatley.

However, Ms McMillan stated that she did not authorise the pre-briefing and a manager in the media relations team confirmed this.

Contrary to opinion, director of supervision Clive Adamson did not give the interview to the Telegraph. The telephone interview was in fact conducted by long-term savings and pension Nick Poyntz-Wright, but with quotes attributed to Mr Adamson without his knowledge.

Mr Adamson was aware of the briefing, but expected to be consulted further and had understood that he would be able to approve quotes.

Clifford Chance’s report criticised the handling of the decision to let the briefing go ahead, despite the knowledge that it could contain price-sensitive information.

FCA was slow to respond

The report stated that the practice of pre-briefings is not new, but there were no policies or guidelines in place and no process for ensuring that pre-briefings did not contain price sensitive information.

It also criticised the fact that there is no training provided within divisions on the identification, control or handling of price-sensitive information of any possible market abuse complications.

The media associate who was present during the interview did not share any concerns with the media manager and after reading the article had messaged his superior to say it was “a bit sensational, but it seems about right”.

The media associate focused on the positives of a high profile story for the FCA, without appreciating the consequences for the life industry when the markets opened the next day.