Martin Wheatley evokes a lot of hostility, rather than respect, from many of the senior figures in the London’s financial community. A few months ago one chief executive pulled me aside and blamed the City’s top regulator for costing London the flotation of Alibaba, the giant Chinese internet group.
Wheatley’s crime, I was told, was to write a piece in the Hong Kong media criticising Alibaba’s corporate governance and arguing it would not stand a chance of listing in London. It didn’t.
Yesterday there would have been many in the City enjoying watch Wheatley squirm in front of the Treasury Select Committee, where chair Andrew Tyrie wasted no time in criticising the running of the Financial Conduct Authority, especially the selective leaking of a change of policy towards closed funds that caused chaos in the stock market.
Tyrie’s committee accused Wheatley’s beleaguered team of taking a “cack-handed approach” to the media and called a decision to allow its board to take an early look at an independent report into the blunder a “crackpot idea”.
But perhaps the most important development of the day came when Wheatley apologised for a statement he made in 2012, shortly after taking over at the FCA, that he “shoots first and asks questions later.”
This phrase has dogged him ever since and an acknowledgement yesterday that the organisation when it was first set up was “too aggressive” is also welcome. It is paramount that the FCA roots out bad apples but to do so it needs to work with the industry, not against it.
Wheatley’s contrition, if genuine, might be the first stage in healing the relationship between the financial services industry and the regulator. And not before time.