Damian Fantato 

FCA needs to help, not hinder, advisers

Damian Fantato

Damian Fantato

The Financial Conduct Authority has an awkward job: the companies it regulates range from enormous multinational investment banks based in Canary Wharf, to one-man-band financial advisers dotted around the UK.

This is perhaps one of the explanations for some of the complaints advisers can have about dealing with the regulator.

For example, we have recently seen the case of the FCA being unable to tell an adviser whether they had permissions to advise on a particular product.

The adviser in question had a very specific question – albeit quite a niche one – and only needed a yes or no answer.

But after several months of dithering, the FCA told him to engage a lawyer or compliance consultant to get an answer to his question.

One of the obvious reactions to this is that the regulator spent several months on this query and was still unable to answer a question pertaining to its own rules – a sign, if nothing else, that the rulebook is bloated and in need of trimming.

In fairness to the FCA, it has already said it wants to start pruning its rulebook for several years, but has had to postpone this work because of the time it has had to spend getting ready for Brexit.

But the other issue is that the FCA has treated a relatively small financial advice business in the same way as a FTSE 100 bank.

For HSBC or Hargreaves Lansdown or St James's Place, engaging a group of lawyers or consultants to answer this question would be a matter of a few basis points off their revenue, but for smaller businesses it is a more considerable commitment.

Clearly, the regulator cannot act as a compliance consultant to every advice business in the country, but it can help them answer a question every now and then.

If the FCA were to take action against a company after having failed to provide it with information to help it stay within its rules, that might be interpreted as a few steps shy of entrapment. But it certainly is not cricket.

damian.fantato@ft.com