Comment: the FCA is not up to the job of beating the scammers

JIM ARMITAGE

The Financial Conduct Authority has the toughest of jobs.

With a limited budget, it is expected to stop hundreds of scams a month, patrol the financial markets and make sure lenders are treating their millions of customers fairly.

All while being told to encourage innovation, and with muddy boundaries dictating what is and isn’t within its remit.

These tensions partly explain why it failed to stop such scandals as London Capital & Finance, Connaught and countless others that ended in penury for elderly savers.

It took too long to appreciate the extent of dodgy minibonds and arrived late to the realisation that Google and Facebook provide the most fertile marketing ground for the unscrupulous.

Today’s business plan, in which it sets out its goals for the year, is a tacit recognition of its failings.

Stopping scams and charlatans is the most recurring theme.

The fear is, while it talks the talk, can it walk the walk? White collar crime is on the back burners of justice, more than ever now courts are closed by Covid-19.

We need politicians to recognise the proliferation of scammers springing up since pensions freedoms. To see that policing them requires a watchdog with a huge budget and a far clearer mandate.

Why not make all financial sales an FCA-regulated activity?

Why not give it extra powers to prevent banned directors springing up elsewhere?

Why not threaten to take down Google and co if they fail to pull dodgy ads?

Mention such ideas to financial folk and they complain about red tape.

But here’s a counterview; time after time, speaking to victims of the growing number of disastrous savings schemes, you hear the words: I will never trust a financial company again.

Unless the FCA toughens up, that wariness will spread, undermining all City firms and putting people off saving.

It’s in everyone’s interests to stop the rot.