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Adam Samuel

This compliance consultant was an ombudsman for the regulator before he turned to the other side of training financial companies in handling complaints and fighting against unjust decisions. Interview by Paul McMillan.

Compliance consultant Adam Samuel was once second ombudsman at the PIA but is now better known as the scourge of many a Financial Ombudsman Scheme adjudicator and white knight of IFAs in regulatory trouble.

Samuel is the man that Aifa and the Institute of Financial Planning regularly tell advisers to turn to due to his encyclopaedic knowledge of complainthandling regulation and willingness to take on the FOS when he believes it acts unfairly.

He was a student of law at Oxford University and trained as a barrister. While he was on a pub crawl he bumped into a member of a Swiss government institution who needed someone to contribute to a book on international arbitration. After convincing them he was the man for the job, Samuel got a six-month scholarship with the Swiss Institute Of Comparative Law.

Samuel has never been a man short of words and after arriving in Switzerland promptly dumped the project and set about writing a book on the subject himself, with the institute agreeing and taking him on permanently.

He became Switzerland’s expert on Irish divorce law at a time when divorce in Ireland was unconstitutional and had the book, Jurisdictional Problems in International Commercial Arbitration, published in 1989.

Samuel had built up a wide-ranging international contact book and decided to take up a professor friend’s offer of a research assistant role at Boston University before moving to New York and passing the bar exam.

Back in England, Samuel spent a year trying to get out of being a lawyer interspersed with broadcasting work at the BBC World Service.

He applied to the Insurance Ombudsman Bureau and was offered the role of case handler. He says: “There was a horrific atmosphere at the time. All ombudsman schemes are very tense places and I did not fit in, people did not like me very much. I quickly established myself as someone who closed a lot of cases quickly and that did not make me popular as it showed up inefficiencies of others”.

During this period, he claims the industry got away with “blue murder” with the IOB’s rhetoric failing to match its actions and allowing problems to develop with mortgage endowments and pension transfers.

“We were not as technically knowledgeable as we could have been and if we had been, our reversal rate of industry decisions could have doubled.”

After working for the IOB for four years Samuel joined the newly formed PIA Ombudsman Bureau as second ombudsman but he says that a clash of styles led to him being told after four months that his contract would not be renewed.

Prudential had heard Samuel deliver a talk on handling complaints while he was at the IOB and after doing a session with the firm, he realised that he wanted to be a trainer.

Three months later, he was running a training course on how to handle complaints and set himself up in his current role as a compliance consultant.

He says the work ranges from training on complaint handling or financial promotions, writing, practical advice and mentoring IFAs to keep out of trouble as well as helping those already with regulatory problems.

Samuel is also on the World Intellectual Property Organisation domain name panel, judging cyber-squatting disputes.

He says he would like to deal more with post-enforcement work, possibly on a pro bono basis, addressing the lack of after-care when firms get hit by the regulator.

His worry is that the current regulatory framework is not encouraging the “rather simple but abstract concept of quality” and warns of the current “ethical sloppiness” from the regulator and industry.

He says there are big questions to be asked around regulators not pursuing big firms which might offer job opportunities in the future and suggests that ex-regulators should not go on to work for regulated firms.

Samuel warns that the industry needs to rid itself of the notion of acceptable compliance risk. In areas such as pension mortgages, he believes that some companies are breaking the rules as the profits that are available make it an acceptable risk.

He admits to coming across as overly critical of others but says he is his own biggest critic and focuses on mistakes he has made as much as scrutinising the latest FSA consultation paper.

Outside of the industry, Samuel’s love is singing. His great great uncle was Albert Whelan, an Australian music hall performer who is credited with being the first person to use a signature tune. “There is the showman side of me. I have always performed, I have always sung.”

After meeting a fellow singing enthusiast during his work on the pension review, Samuel was introduced to a musical group and can now be found in the Golden Eagle pub in London, performing musical and music hall numbers most Thursdays.

Born: 1960

Lives: London

Education: Oxford University, Boston University

Career: 1996-present: independent consultant; 1995 Second Ombudsman, PIA Ombudsman Bureau; 1991-1995: Ombudsman’s Assistant, Insurance Ombudsman Bureau; 1989-1990: Research assistant, Boston University; 1985-1989: research scholar and then staff lawyer responsible for the English-speaking world, Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, Lausanne; 1983-1985: pupil barrister

Career ambition: Open eyes and establish quality rather than lobbying interests as the driving force in compliance and regulation.

Life ambition: Old Fanny Brice song, “Cooking breakfast for the one I love”

Likes: People trying to get the most from whatever ability they have

Dislikes: People who think that they know it all and bad lawyers and compliance consultants who make people trust them and don’t deliver

Favourite film: Casablanca

Favourite album: Blue by Joni Mitchell

Favourite book: Babe by Robert Creamer (biography of Babe Ruth)

Hero: I don’t really do heroes but if you insist – Gladstone, strongly self-righteous and deeply flawed.

If I was not doing this job I would be …No idea


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