Martin Bamford: High-risk advisers are a scourge on our industry


Last Saturday evening at the annual village bonfire, two local families decide this is a suitable event at which to continue their petty feud and start a punch-up. The following morning at the Remembrance Day service, a young chap unhappy with the temporary road closure decides to rev his engine loudly and drown out a moving reading from our Reverend.

Everywhere you go there appears to be a minority intent on spoiling things for the rest of us. Indeed, I was reminded of these instances last week when reading about the pair of financial advisers flogging £400m worth of investments, including £100m of film scheme investments, to some high-profile footballers.

Leaving aside for one moment the fact many footballers appear to be better at playing investment victims than playing the beautiful game, this seems to be another all-too-familiar case of stupidity at play – on both sides of the pitch.

According to the report, the two advisers pocketed around £5m in commissions from this handy little scheme. In a subsequent move, which only appears to have been a surprise to the advisers involved and their clients, HMRC stepped in and demanded repayment of the tax rebates generated by the “investments”.

This story has all of the hallmarks of a tale about how not to invest money. It has got the suckers, the high commission payments and the dodgy underlying investments. I particularly liked the sound of the property yacht berths in Florida without waterside access. Classic.

It also has the investors borrowing money to invest. No doubt lending the scheme some extra credibility, as well as some extra money, Coutts got involved with £40m of loans to boost the amount eventually lost.

All of us know what is going to happen next. Because the advisers involved were authorised and regulated, and because they have wound up their businesses before seeking reauthorisation elsewhere, the liabilities get dumped on the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Which is to say the liabilities will get dumped on the rest of us.

Local hooligans and financial advisers who sell high-risk investments before forcing us to compensate their clients have a lot in common. Both are a scourge to their respective societies. Both tend to get dealt with by the appropriate authorities. Street brawlers might mature in time or end up serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Rogue advisers tend to end up at firms with stricter compliance regimes or have their permissions revoked for life by the FCA.

Yet before long another boy racer will come along to fill the void left by the last one. Another financial adviser with more greed, naivety or supposed intelligence than the rest of us will come along to advise the next group of overpaid footballers wanting to avoid their fair share of tax. When this happens, society will once again pay the price through inconvenience, offence or a large FSCS levy. So the cycle continues.

Where I once wanted to see decisive action from our regulator to deal proactively with this sort of nonsense, I now find myself resigned to making provision for the inevitable costs in our retained profits and simply shelling out for it when it keeps happening.

Martin Bamford is managing director at Informed Choice