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Financial regulator doubles total fines

The Times: Financial regulator doubles total fines

“The recent fines record was dominated by the £17 million penalty meted out in August to Shell for repeatedly misleading shareholders over its oil and gas reserves.”

By Patrick Hosking, Investment Editor

September 27, 2004

THE duo running the Financial Services Authority have been accused of a “slash and burn” approach to punishing wrongdoers as it emerged that FSA fines have doubled in their first year in the job.

Callum McCarthy and John Tiner, who last week celebrated their first 12 months as chairman and chief executive respectively, have administered 25 fines totalling £27.3 million.

Sir Howard Davies, who was both chairman and chief executive, administered 13 fines totalling £12.5 million in his final year.

Angela Knight, chief executive of the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers, said: “I worry about the ratcheting up of fines. There’s too much of a slash and burn approach.”

She claimed that the whole industry seemed to be “put in the sin bin” when a company was fined, not just the company at fault. “The impression gained is one of constant scandal in the financial services industry, when most of the industry is behaving very well.”

The recent fines record was dominated by the £17 million penalty meted out in August to Shell for repeatedly misleading shareholders over its oil and gas reserves. Other fines were for breaching money-laundering rules, mis-selling of precipice bonds, compliance failings, misleading advertising and inadequate record keeping.

Excluding the Shell penalty, which was four times bigger than any other imposed by the FSA, average fine sizes have actually come down in the past year — from £958,000 to £411,000.

Messrs McCarthy and Tiner have been given a mixed verdict on their first year in the job. Joanna Elson, at the British Bankers Association, said the pendulum was beginning to swing back from excessive policing of the money-laundering rules. “On the whole, we’d say they were making a decent fist of it,” she said.

George Osborne, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “There is a view that the FSA has become too regulatory and has got too many fingers in too many pies. The fault lies not with the people who run the authority but with the original financial services legislation.”

Assessing the nearly three years since the FSA was given its full powers, Ed Mayo, chief executive of the National Consumer Council, said: “I’d give them seven out of ten. It’s unimaginable we could have stuck with the gentlemen’s club-style regulation we had before.”

There is growing anger at the FSA’s decision to scrap its December 31 deadline for banks and fund managers to tighten internal risk management systems. It has dropped the deadline after realising that new EU rules will supersede some of its own requirements. City firms had invested millions to ensure they met the deadline.

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