The scope of the Financial Conduct Authority’s work is like the Norwegian coast, its chief executive, Andrew Bailey, remarked the other day – about 38 times longer than a straight line around the edge would suggest. But one priority has always been clear: it is vital to protect consumers who are exposed to high-cost credit providers.
Quite right, too. And there is a fair argument that the FCA, which was given responsibility for this area in 2014, has scored successes. On the regulator’s website, you will find a long list of interventions. Price caps were imposed on payday lenders in 2015 in attempt to quell the outrage caused the gouging tactics of the likes of Wonga. Overdrafts, credit cards and automotive loans have also been scrutinised.
Not everybody is convinced the measures have gone far enough, but give the FCA some due. The regulator reckons its rules save consumers, many of them classed as “vulnerable”, £1.7bn a year and it calculates that firms have paid £900m in redress.
So how could a former director of the owner of QuickQuid, the payday lender that went into administration last week, be deemed a suitable appointment to the FCA’s regulatory decisions committee (RDC)?
This is an important body that is described as “the final stage of decision-making within the FCA”. In extreme cases, it can close down firms. Yet Nick Lord, as the Guardian reported on Wednesday, was appointed in 2017 when he was still a non-executive director of QuickQuid’s parent, CashEuroNet.
Rules around conflicts of interest will have prevented Lord from opining on any matter related to QuickQuid. And, yes, it is important that the RDC includes not only consumer champions but also individuals with experience in financial services.
Even so, hiring a director of a payday lender – in this case, a company that has now folded with thousands of claims for mis-sold loans unresolved – is a strange way to promote your consumer protection credentials.
Lord has other entries on his CV that might have been attractive to the FCA, including former membership of the Financial Services Consumer Panel. But his QuickQuid gig ought to have been a turnoff, which may be why it is not mentioned on his biography on the FCA’s website. Common sense in this instance seems to have been lost in one of Bailey’s fjords.
Another low note for De La Rue
Short profit warnings are the worst. In three sentences De La Rue, the banknote and security printer, squashed any hope that its multi-year storm had passed with the recent departure of the ineffective chief executive Martin Sutherland. Profits this year will be “significantly below” the market’s expectation of about £52m. Cue a 20% fall in the share price to a 21-year low of 149p.
At the start of last year, before Sutherland threw a silly tantrum when De La Rue lost the contract to print British passports, the shares stood at over 600p. Since that episode, shareholders have suffered a separate profits warning and news of a Serious Fraud Office inquiry tied to suspected corruption in South Sudan. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan central bank has stopped paying its bills to De Le Rue. And the rise of cashless societies is bad news for all banknote printers.
In theory, the group’s authentication division, offering “identity solutions” and security features, offers a path to salvation. That, at least, was Sutherland’s big plan. We wait to see if the new boss, Clive Vacher, agrees when he unveils his thinking next month. It is alarming for investors that it has taken him only three weeks in post to determine that the profits outlook was wonky. The dividend looks the next casualty.
De La Rue, almost incredibly for a company that prints a third of the world’s banknotes, is now worth just £160m. In normal circumstances, you would say it is a takeover candidate but an open investigation by the SFO may deter decent offers. If shareholders want another reason to be miserable, here’s one: Sutherland somehow got a £197,000 bonus last year.
Boeing bosses a protected species
Dennis Muilenburg, the chief executive of Boeing, should count himself lucky. He has been verbally mauled by a Senate committee this week for “hiding” information about the anti-stall system that has been implicated in two 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people, but he is still in his job.
Would the boss of a foreign company operating out of the US be in post in similar circumstances? One doubts it. Tony Hayward did not last long at BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which killed 11 people. Some of Muilenburg’s comments in recent weeks have been as crass as any of Hayward’s back then. Boeing bosses are still a protected species in their own backyard.