Speaking at the annual International Financial Services Forum yesterday (September 21) Christopher Woolard praised his "exceptional" colleagues but said more could be done to reform the regulator.
Mr Woolard said: "I have 4,000 colleagues willing to make judgements. They are good people.
"Some routinely put themselves in the way of harm for the public they serve.
"We deal with individuals who you would not like to meet – some are dishonest, some corrupt, some dangerous."
The outgoing watchdog boss said the FCA had helped "millions of ordinary people" during the pandemic this year but he admitted there would be "painful lessons" for the City watchdog when several investigations into potential regulatory failures concluded later this year.
He said: "The nature of the work we do means the odds are there will be times where we cannot stop failure or where we call a finely balanced judgement wrongly or miss something.
"And yet, understandably, there is an expectation from the public that we will not do so."
There are three big-named ongoing independent investigations into potential regulatory failures at the FCA; the HBOS Reading scandal, London Capital & Finance and the Connaught funds.
Mr Woolard warned of an "expectations gap" between what the public expects and the FCA can deliver.
He said: "This expectation gap manifests itself in a number of ways. The first, and most obvious, what is the degree of protection that people have.
"In a highly regulated market, which finance is, should consumers enjoy no risk? Are all failures and losses within the sector, at least in part, regulatory in nature?
"The second is what regulation covers. The perimeter, in regulatory speak. What is in, and what is not. And how does this accord with the public’s expectation? This is an area that is arguably too complex, but also lacks simple answers.
"Third, what regulatory tools we should use and how fast results can be seen. Every person who has been wronged wants swift justice, everyone who believes themselves innocent wants a fair trial." But he said financial misconduct and crime was complex and cases could take a long time to be solved.
He said: "The question then for us – and for wider civil society – is what sort of regulation do we want? What tools do we have available and when will we use them? And how clear is the public we serve about what the system can deliver, the protections they enjoy and the risks they run?