Watchdog boss accepts blame for insurance mess

CITY watchdog chief exec Martin Wheatley yesterday said he accepts responsibility for the sloppy announcement of a new insurance investigation last week.

The Financial Conduct Authority is looking into the fees and charges faced by savers with insurance policies dating back to the 1970s.

And when this was inadvertently released through a newspaper on Friday, shares in insurers tumbled by as much as 11.5 per cent.

“This was not the FCA’s finest hour,” Wheatley told the City Week conference.

He said that any business which had released market-moving information in this way would face “serious questions,” and so the FCA must also face such scrutiny.

The FCA has appointed an external law firm to investigate the announcement and has promised to make its findings public.

“Of course I am personally affected by this, I am the chief executive,” Wheatley said.

“I take responsibility for the organisation and for what it does.”

It came as the FCA announced one of its prime focuses for the year is to ensure finance firms are treating customer data properly, and not sharing it inappropriately.

Meanwhile, the life insurance sector was dealt further blow yesterday after credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded the UK life insurance sector to negative from stable.

The ratings agency said Wheatley’s forthcoming probe into historic insurance policies had contributed the downgrade, alongside the government’s overhaul of annuity rules.

The move marked a sour end to an otherwise good day for the sector, which until then had made up ground lost after the FCA’s blunder led to a broad sell off on Friday.

Shares in insurers including Legal and General, Prudential, and Just Retirement fell again after the announcement from the ratings agency.