views

BROKER WILLS & CO OPENS FIRE ON FSA’S REGULATORY CRACKDOWN

WHEREAS most City firms are content to whinge ineffectually about the Financial Services Authority’s new heavy-handed approach to regulation, it seems that others are starting to put their money where their mouth is.

Rumours have been busy swirling in the Square Mile over the regulatory status of private client stockbroker Wills & Co, which can trace its origins all the way back to 1883, when it was established as the financial services arm of the Wills Tobacco empire.

Word on the street was that the firm’s recent silence on the small cap business front translated into a suspension of its FSA licence, though Wills itself reckons it is taking a self-imposed stand against the regulator’s ever more onerous policing of the market.

“If people can go to an online casino and bet their life away without heavy regulation, why shouldn’t someone be able to take a well informed position in a small cap stock, albeit a risky one?” group chief executive Peter Shakeshaft grumbles, adding that the draconian hoop-jumping process the FSA has imposed on the sector is making the position of predominantly small cap operators untenable.

It’s not the first time the firm has had a run-in with the regulator – in October 2007, it was slapped with a £49,000 fine for “failing to ensure that its customers understood the risks involved with penny shares, and for being unclear, unfair and misleading when advising on the shares”.

Definitely a spat to keep an eye on…

GREAT MINDS
An unusual pulling-together of the major players in the financial services industry today marks the launch of a one-off report from the CBI and PricewaterhouseCoopers, entitled “The Future of Financial Services”.

HSBC chairman Stephen Green, Barclays chief John Varley, Standard Life chief executive David Nish, Aviva boss Mark Hodges, Man Group chief Peter Clarke, Icap boss Michael Spencer… the list of 20 luminaries contributing to the report goes on and on. Though The Capitalist would wager there are a fair few City heavyweights out there smarting from their exclusion – BBC business guru Robert Peston, for instance; or BarCap chief Bob Diamond, who’s been vocal in supporting his industry in a way that Varley, perhaps, has not. Or even poor Standard Chartered boss Peter Sands, who’s widely credited with dreaming up the bank bailout in the first place, and yet is nowhere to be seen.

“It’s hard to pick out every relevant individual from a cast of thousands,” huffs my man on the inside.

FIRST SALVO
After cosying up to each other yesterday in a strategic partnership, it is interesting to note that corporate finance boutique Strand Hanson and its new Russian bedfellow Renaissance Capital have met before, though not on such amicable terms.

Last time saw Strand acting as nominated adviser to Sibir Energy, once the largest company on the Aim market, which was last year embroiled in controversy when it brought a lawsuit against indebted shareholder Chalva Tchigirinsky. Sibir was ultimately taken over by Russian oil major Gazpromneft – which, in turn, counted Renaissance as an adviser.

“It was a good preliminary to our agreement – working on the other side of the table gives you a much better view of how a potential partner operates,” Strand chief executive Simon Raggett chuckles. “Plus, it showed neither of us are afraid to get involved with very complex, tricky deals…” I’ll say.

SLUMMING IT
My, my, but isn’t life tough in the airline industry? In zooms an email from carrier BMI, addressed to its “valued” Diamond Club members, announcing the firm is planning to cut out their business class offering on all UK and Ireland flights from Heathrow airport.

BMI insists its well-heeled passengers won’t suffer too much from having to slum it in economy, offering them – for a higher “flexible economy” fare, of course – 200 per cent airmiles, lounge access and seats at the front of the plane, though not cut off from the riff-raff, unfortunately. Scandalous.

MUMMY’S  BOY
It always warms the cockles of a lady’s heart to hear of a man doing something kind for his mother, so The Capitalist is suitably impressed by the efforts of Sportingbet chief executive Andrew McIver at the pre-Christmas Sir Peter O’Sullevan annual award for contribution to the sport of horseracing. I hear McIver bid a staggeringly generous £24,000 for a lunch for four at Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gavroche, hosted by actress Joanna Lumley – as a festive gift for his mum Helen. Awww.