So We’re Getting a Long-Winded Thematic Review on Due Diligence, Says Gill Cardy? Why Now? And What Are We Supposed To Do While We’re Waiting?
In advance of launching a Thematic Review on due diligence, the FCA’s pre-judged position is that “inadequate
due diligence underpins a lot of the incidences of crystallised risk we’ve seen.”
Continuing to explain their pre-conceived conclusions, the regulators explain that advisers can reply on factual information but not on opinion, and that just filling files with template due diligence materials is not acceptable.
The FCA confirmed on 30th September that it is to launch its long-touted thematic review on due diligence for retail investment advice “later this year”, and reporting some time “well into next year”.
“Due diligence, or at least inadequate due diligence, underpins a lot of the incidences of crystallised risk we’ve seen,” said Rory Percival, technical specialist at the FCA……….Keydata, Arch Cru…so it is a key important area.”
Sounds great. But what’s new?
Well, the regulator has perspicaciously observed that there’s a distinction between fact and opinion. If the manager tells you what’s in the fund, that’s fact apparently. If he tells you that it’s low-risk, that’s opinion. Apparently we need help in distinguishing the two.
What else is in the Review? We don’t know, because the silence is still deafening. But we’re sure they’ll think of something. Watch this space.
It is simply ludicrous that the FCA is telling us the outcome of the thematic review before it has even started. If it already knows what is right and wrong, then firstly – with its shiny new emphasis on decisive and early action – it could (should?) tell us what it expects.
It is also offensive that, if the regulators already know what they want from us, they are not being explicit right now, so that we can review our systems and processes at the earliest opportunity. Instead, how much money – our money, of course – will be spent concluding exactly what the FCA already knows.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
They will start their review about now, and report “well into next year” – which means that it’s going to be at least a year before they can expect firms to take account of their “new” guidance. Except it won’t be new, because they already know the answer.
Look, the FCA has reviewed enough files in its time to know its definitions of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ – or, in our more terminologically inexact age, ‘good practice’ and ‘bad practice’. And if its people think they are addressing their consumer protection objective by failing to share this information with advisers at the earliest opportunity, then they are, quite frankly, not worth a pound of their salaries, let alone their bonuses.
That Risk Question Again
Similarly, being coy about what specifically is ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’ in risk-profiling tools is startlingly inappropriate. I also learned that the FCA has a file review template. Of course it does. So share it with us. If the FCA judges our advice processes, tell us by what measures we will be judged.
And I must revisit the question of risk that I raised last month. So, according to the FCA’s latest pronouncement, definitions of levels of risk are ‘opinion, and not to be relied on’. Great. I’m very happy to make my own determination.
Mind-Readers Urgently Required
But my file will only be ‘acceptable’ when my definitions are just the same the regulator’s, or the ombudsman’s. I’m very happy (kind of) to concede that I cannot take at face value a fund manager’s assertion that using currency hedging or alternatives as part of their investment strategy makes its fund low risk.
But, unless my high risk or low risk meets the same criteria as the regulator’s and the ombudsman’s, and unless we all work to agreed definitions which are known, understood and applied consistently across the whole of industry, advisers will always fail.
And if inadequate due diligence is allegedly only one of three common reasons for unsuitable advice then surely it’s imperative for the FCA and the consumers they are supposed to protect to tell us the other two as a matter of urgency. After all, we’re only advisers, not chartered mind-readers.