Entering the office of London-based IFA Scrooge & Marley, you find co-founder Ebenezer Scrooge sitting at his tall desk, quill in hand, reconciling commission payments.
Scrooge, on first impression, looks every bit the general public's impression of a miser. But a closer examination of his life story reveals that it is the regulator which has made him this way. Harried over the misselling of pensions he never missold, accused of misselling split-caps even though he was only following guidelines from the FSA website – a life of regulatory harassment has given him the worn profile of a man who over the years has paid too much in compensation and professional indemnity cover.
Scrooge's reputation precedes him. Branded a tight-fisted old boy, a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, he got that way protecting his clients' interests and it has hardened his soul. It is said that no client ever stopped him in the street with gladsome looks to say: “My dear Scrooge, how are you?” No low-income earners implored him to bestow a trifle of free advice. No network salesmen inquired how fared his compliance.
It is also said that Scrooge liked it that way. It had some advantages as Tep providers walked past old Scrooge without trying to foist a policy on him or his clients.
But Scrooge explains how he has now changed. “I did get a reputation for being a penny-pincher in the old days. It all grew out of me trying to save money for my clients.
“They loved me to be tight with their money and I got meaner and meaner and meaner. My tightness became so well known that in two years I received job offers off every major network and even the regulator. But all that changed last night. It was a revelation, I tell you. There I was minding my own business when I was visited by three spectres. Well, you can just imagine my surprise. Would you believe it, they warned me to change my ways or I would end up in hell.”
Childless Scrooge's first apparition came in the form of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, taken from the world seven years ago after receiving a huge misselling bill.
“That old codger Marley was just standing there at the end of my bed. He started off a good adviser but became a salesman for Zebedee Advisory Network, hardening his craft and graft, so no matter how tightly the widows would hang on to those pound notes, he would always make a sale,” recounts Scrooge. “But his ghost was a terrible sight and he described to me his own living hell where to this day he is perpetually finding out he has sold Inverness Asset Management split-caps,” he shudders.
Marley then told the quivering Scrooge that he would receive visitations from three spirits. “Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread,” Marley explained.
Scrooge is clearly agitated when he relates waking in bed to find a ghoulish Sir Howard Davies at the bottom of the bed, saying that he was the ghost of Christmas past. Davies, dressed as Wee Willie Winkie, took him on a nightmarish journey through the office from hell – a scary place where exams were scorned, nobody had enough investment knowledge and the temptation of selling that endowment life policy to the single man proved just too great.
Having petrified Scrooge with the terrors of the regulatory framework, the bedshirted ghoul disappeared in the direction of the London School of Economics.
“I was beginning to think I would never get another decent night's sleep when I was woken again. But this visitation was a more pleasant experience altogether,” a dreamy-eyed Scrooge recounts. “I was taken through space by a representative of a life company, the ghost of Christmas present, who took me to an office with a huge pile of £50 notes stacked on a desk, with a card on top saying: 'Let me invest in you.'”
Scrooge cannot disguise his unadulterated delight when describing his final encounter. “I woke to find my bedroom filled with a golden light and at the end of the bed stood a golden bull. I was surprised to learn that this was the ghost of Christmas future. Having climbed on to his back, he took me to a place where the FTSE stood at 8,000, bars and restaurants had taken over the premises of failed bancassurers, PI cover cost £50 a year and the FSA had given a clear definition of misselling.”
This series of ghostly appearances had a profound effect on Scrooge. Traumatised by the regulatory burden and personal exposure risk, he has given up his lifelong labour of love that was advice for an easier path.
“I thought, there is a better way, I just need to get involved in changing things. No more 'Bah, humbugging', I want a quiet life and a civil service pension,” he explains.
Fortunately for Scrooge, an opportunity has appeared down at Canary Wharf and, beating off stiff competition from within the FSA, he takes up his new role as head of the regulator next October. Scrooge is looking forward to winding down. “It has got to be easier than being an IFA,”he says.
Lives: Cheapside, alone.
Born: December 25, 1810, Rochester, Kent.
Career: 1830 to date. Partner at Scrooge & Marley, a member of the Misers network.
Career ambition: No great expectations other than a career hat-trick of head of the FSA, director of the LSE and governor of the Bank of England
Life ambition: To sell out for more than Ken Davy
Likes: Coins, notes (all denominations), cheques, gold.
Peers say: “He's always first out of the taxi and last in the pub.”
Car: “I don't need one, Shanks' pony is good enough for me.”