The U.K.’s financial services regulator is still failing to hold individuals accountable four years after introducing a program to improve oversight and enforcement.
According to research by financial regulation consultancy Bovill, there have been just 34 investigations and one successful enforcement action since the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) introduced its senior managers and certification regime (SMCR) in March 2016.
Eleven of these investigations were closed without action, according to data obtained by Bovill under a Freedom of Information request.
The unlucky individual subject to the only successful enforcement action was Barclays Bank CEO Jes Staley, who was fined £642,430 (U.S. $832,000) in 2018 for trying to unmask a whistleblower who raised concerns about how the bank appointed one of Staley’s friends to a senior position.
Last December, the scope of the SMCR was extended to cover a further 48,000 solo-regulated firms, bringing the total covered to around 50,000 firms.
Experts had expected more investigations and enforcement actions into smaller firms because it would be easier for the regulator to pinpoint the individuals at fault for poor decision making, but so far the FCA has held back.
This “light-touch” regulatory approach could be due to the regulator prioritizing its resources elsewhere during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as reflect a general reluctance by U.K. watchdogs to investigate while firms focus on staying in business.
Bovill suggests, in spite of the FCA’s best efforts, the effectiveness of the flagship regulation “remains under question.”
“SMCR was introduced to hold senior individuals in the financial sector to account. But four and a half years after it first came into effect, these numbers suggest that the regime might not have the right tools for the job,” said Bovill CEO Ben Blackett Ord in a statement. “Questions should be asked as to why there are so few investigations and punishments and whether SMCR is fit for purpose.”
“We don’t believe that the low number of enforcements is a sign that SMCR has been an effective deterrent for senior managers,” he added.
The FCA has posted a notice to impose a financial penalty and prohibition for a second individual, but it has not been finalized.
In a statement, an FCA spokesperson said: “The real measure of SMCR is not the volume of enforcement cases but whether the threat of enforcement raises standards. We think SMCR has raised governance standards in firms and the threat of personal liability has helped to drive this.”