Bungles and blunders: From the life insurance scandal to confusion over HSBC, here are Financial Conduct Authority boss Martin Wheatley’s worst moments
As Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chief executive Martin Wheatley takes his final bow, many in the City will be celebrating – after all, this is the man who famously promised to “shoot first and ask questions later” when it came to regulating the finance sector.
Read more: George Osborne ousts Wheatley from the FCA
But for all the bluster, Wheatley's time at the regulator wasn't always easy.
During his four years at the top, he made numerous sheepish appearances before the Treasury Select Committee as he admitted blunders over everything from being too gung-ho to missing the HSBC scandal. Here are some of his top moments.
“Shoot first, ask questions later” u-turn
Having come into the role with all guns blazing, Wheatley later admitted he shouldn't have shot his mouth off first, telling the Treasury Select Committee that “I regret using that phrase… [it] was used in the context to responding to a question about how our new early-intervention powers are to be used”.
Undermining the UK’s efforts in China
Wheatley left a bitter taste in the mouth of many of those in the City when he made clear during an interview with the South China Morning Post that the regulator would not have been prepared to change its rules to accommodate the listing of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, which launched the biggest-ever IPO in New York in September last year.
Not long before David Cameron had led a delegation to China, which included LSE chief exec Xavier Rolet.
“Imagine how [they] must have felt a few months later when they realised Wheatley had effectively pulled the rug from under their feet,” wrote City A.M. later.
£3bn life insurance meltdown
Perhaps his lowest ebb came after the publication of the Davis report into the FCA’s leaking of price sensitive information relating to life insurers, which knocked £3bn off the value of life insurers.
The report gave an insight into just how chaotic life at the FCA had become: an FCA director had briefed a Telegraph reporter about an impending investigation into the sector, which was published on the evening of 27 March 2014. As shares in life insurers spiralled, the FCA remained silent, only clarifying the story in the afternoon of the next day.
In the end, director of supervision Clive Adamson lost his job (later admitting it was the “most serious incident” the regulator had ever faced), while Wheatley, Adamson, communications director Zitah McMillan and director of markets David Lawton all gave up their bonuses over the scandal.
Confusion over HSBC scandal
As allegations that HSBC’s Swiss private bank had been helping its customers evade tax broke at the beginning of the year, Wheatley appeared before the Treasury Select Committee again – this time to admit he had no idea what was going on until the story came out in the press.
“I am not aware of a direct channel of information on this particular case,” he said.
Senior Managers Regime: Guilty until proven innocent?
Wheatley was forced to defend himself in May when some pointed out that his Senior Managers Regime, which puts the onus on bosses of failed banks to prove they took reasonable steps to mitigate risks or face jail, might be the first time in UK law someone has been guilty until proven innocent.
Hitting back against critics, he said he did not want to “put heads on sticks” or go “scalp hunting”, adding that it was “common sense”.