The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) came down hard earlier this month on two employees of the Bank of Beirut (UK) Ltd and the bank itself. The FCA fined the bank’s former compliance officer, Anthony Wills, £19,600, and the former internal auditor, Michael Allin, £9,900, for failing to be open and cooperative during an investigation. In 2010 and 2011, the FCA ordered the Bank of Beirut to take actions to mitigate its risk of money laundering, terrorism financing, and other financial crime after raising concerns about the bank’s culture. Follow-up investigations between 2011 and 2013 found the bank repeatedly provided the FCA with misleading information, including whether the bank had taken the required remedial steps.
Wills handled most of the bank’s communication with the FCA and tried to dismiss the concerns that the remedial actions weren’t being performed, the FCA said. Allin also gave the FCA “false assurances” that the corrective actions had been taken to improve the bank’s processes.
“It is essential to consumer protection, market integrity, and the prevention of financial crime that we can rely on firms giving us the right information at the right time,” Georgina Philippou, FCA acting director of enforcement and market oversight, said in a statement. “Equally worrying was the fact that Wills and Allin provided a number of misleading communications to us, which is a serious breach of their responsibilities as approved persons. We are reliant on compliance officers and internal audit to act as an important line of defense, to support effective regulation at firms and to show backbone even when challenged by their colleagues.”
The FCA said in its statement that it recognized the fact that Wills and Allin were influenced by senior management, but it was their responsibility to resist the pressure and be truthful in dealings with the regulator.
The Bank of Beirut was fined £2.1 million for providing misleading information and banned from acquiring new customers from high-risk jurisdictions for 126 days. It marked only the second time the FCA has used its authority to restrict or suspend activities due to serious misconduct.
“The sanction is intended to send a message of deterrence to the rest of the industry, and serve as a reminder that the FCA is able to respond with sanctions that target the business activities of the firm where the misconduct occurred,” the FCA said.
The bank and the two former employees received a 30 percent discount in their penalties for settling with the FCA during the early stage of the investigation. The FCA and its sister regulator, the Prudential Regulation Authority, were granted the power to sanction individual managers by the Banking Reform Act of 2013.
Martin Wheatley, the FCA’s chief executive, told executives gathered at an event in London this week that the financial services sector has “nothing to fear from high standards.” He pointed to public frustration with a sector in which rewards and bonuses were individualized while accountability was not. Wheatley made the case for the Senior Managers Regime as well as the Certified Persons Regime, which applies to a greater swath of executives than the current approved persons regime by capturing anyone with a “significant harm function,” and the new set of conduct rules applying to virtually everyone in banks except cleaners, receptionists, or other ancillary staff.
“What you have here, then, are a very high level, but significant suite of requirements that apply to a far larger percentage of employees than we’ve encountered before,” Wheatley said.
He also said industries with weak accountability rules are more prone to financial misconduct and less financially stable, noting that in some cases it has taken the regulator weeks to determine who within a bank had a responsibility for a particular management function.
“The discussion here around personal responsibility is not a matter of public theatre. It’s a serious mechanism by which you create a more resilient and publicly trusted industry,” Wheatley said.