Britain’s financial watchdog has rebuffed claims it was forced to investigate its own regulation of collapsed mini-bond firm London Capital & Finance (LC&F).
Chairman of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Charles Randell said this afternoon the regulator chose investigate itself after LC&F’s collapse because of “the broader public interest questions which arise in relation to the issue and sale of mini-bonds by unregulated firms”.
The mini-bond company collapsed in January owing £236m to thousands of investors.
LC&F was regulated by the FCA and featured this fact prominently in its marketing, but mini-bond products are not. The company collapsed in December after the FCA told it to withdraw this marketing material, which it said was “misleading, not fair and unclear”.
But the watchdog has since faced complaints it was slow to react to concerns about LC&F being misleading. The probe will focus on any mistakes the FCA may have made, but also whether rules need to change around consumer protection relating to mini-bonds.
The Treasury may order such investigations for wider public-interest reasons, but they may also be done under post-crisis rules that force the FCA to investigate itself if it appears it has failed to protect customers.
Randall this afternoon argued in a letter to Nicky Morgan, the chair of the Treasury select committee, that the former was more appropriate, in which the Treasury must give the watchdog its blessing to investigate itself, because of the mix of regulated and unregulated business with LC&F.
The FCA board “recognised the risk that additional regulation directed only to authorised firms that issue unregulated mini-bonds may cause this activity to migrate further to purely unregulated entities,” he said.
“The board noted that there was a significant risk of harm to consumers from these unregulated activities and considered that any investigation should examine the LCF case in the context of these broader questions.”
LC&F offered investors mini-bonds, marketing them as a “fixed rate ISA” to customers, many of them first time investors.
Both the FCA and Serious Fraud Office are investigating the collapse and four arrests have been made.