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Profile: Tory MP Guto Bebb on fighting the FCA and rebuilding trust in regulation

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Last month, Aberconwy MP Guto Bebb was just another one of the Conservatives’ rebellious back-benchers. A forthright campaigner, Bebb may be known among advisers as the man behind the parliamentary debate into whether the FCA is fit for purpose.

While the regulator ultimately escaped a vote of no confidence, Bebb has been part of a movement that has already forced multiple concessions from the Government, defeating Chancellor George Osborne’s plans for both pension tax relief reform and changes to tax credits.

The recently proposed (and now spiked) cuts to personal independence payments saw Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith resign in protest, and, in the mini-reshuffle that followed, Bebb was promoted to under-secretary of state for Wales, and named a Government whip.

Speaking to Money Marketing ahead of his promotion, Bebb says his FCA debate was the logical continuation of his fight to question how small businesses missold interest rate swaps are being compensated.

It is a topic that has been central to his parliamentary career since he received a letter from a constituent in 2012. “It came up with constituency casework, a chap called Colin. He came to see me about the fact he had been sold this product, which destroyed his business. And to some extent, you think that’s just a hard luck story.

“But looking into it, it was very clear he’d been sold a pretty toxic interest rate swap product, and the clincher was when we managed to get hold of the call [with the bank that sold the swap].

“It was fairly clear to anybody listening to that tape he didn’t understand what he was buying. After four occasions where it had been explained and he’d said ‘I don’t really get it’, they said  ‘well, have you ever had a fixed-rate mortgage? It’s basically the same as that’.”

Bebb explains borrowers taking out a fixed-rate mortgage understand while they will not benefit if interest rates fall, nor will they be penalised.

“But with the product Colin had, he was being penalised, and, as interest rates went down, it ended up destroying his business.

“And even though a redress offer was made because the company has gone into administration, the beneficiary of that will be the bank as the main creditor.

“Colin was last heard of living in a van in his mother’s driveway. It’s a terrible tragedy.”

“I find it very concerning every time banks are going to lose, they settle out of court with
a gagging order”

The case inspired Bebb in 2012 to launch an all-party parliamentary group on interest rate swap misselling. In January this year he submitted a dossier of 120 cases to the FCA to raise concerns Royal Bank of Scotland customers in particular were being poorly treated and being offered alternative swaps rather than full redress.

Bebb says disputes tend to centre on whether taking out an interest rate hedging product was a legitimate condition of business loans offered by banks.

For example, it may not be legitimate for a bank to make such a requirement if its need is only stressed to a business at the last minute, or if the cost of the product is not explained in full.

“We seem to see with RBS that it is relying on a condition of lending which is very generic. In other words it was basically saying you will need some sort of interest rate protection product in order to qualify for this loan.

“But we have examples from Santander, HSBC and Lloyds where they have decided that when the condition of lending is that vague, it’s not legitimate.”

Bebb is also worried by the numbers of cases being settled outside the regulator’s formal redress scheme, either because the customers are deemed large enough to pass sophistication tests and therefore do not qualify, or because customers are unsatisfied with their offers.

“I find it very concerning every time banks are going to lose, they settle out of court with a gagging order. I know of a case where the offer within the redress scheme was minus £44,000. The bank said ‘yes, you were missold, but you should have taken another product that would have cost you more,’ and they offered to be generous and take nothing instead.

“The out-of-court settlement for that case was over £2m. It leaves you with no confidence in the redress scheme, but I can’t give you the name of the case or the bank because there’s a gagging order.”

Bebb admits to being frustrated at the lack of progress, despite his efforts. “It’s just an ongoing catalogue that we’re getting from the FCA. I don’t think anyone is particularly happy with them, and all we’re getting is a straight bat.”

All of which means when new FCA boss Andrew Bailey appears before parliament’s Treasury select committee for his appointment hearing, Bebb predicts a tough ride.

“He has an organisation that is low on confidence, and has lost the confidence of MPs and the businesses that are supposed to be protected by it. He needs to rebuild that confidence and trust, and he can do that by making sure the regulator acts in a fashion that is more timely, open and transparent.”

The MP argues Bailey’s appointment means any fig-leaf notions that the regulator is independent from the Government should be abandoned.

“Whatever your view of [former FCA chief executive] Martin Wheatley, the decision not to reappoint him was a political one. My understanding is the candidate for the chief executive’s position never really applied for the job.

“So you have a so-called independent body looking for a chief executive, and the person appointed hadn’t applied, but was approached by the Chancellor.

“If the Chancellor and the Treasury want to control the FCA, that’s all well and good, but can we give up on the idea that it’s independent?”

CV

March 2016 – present: Parliamentary under-secretary of state for Wales and Government whip

2014 – 2016: Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the collapse of Connaught Income funds

2012 – 2016: Chair of the APPG on interest rate swap misselling

2010 – 2015: Member of the Welsh affairs select committee

2012 – 2015: Member of the public accounts committee

2010 – present: Member of Parliament for Aberconwy

2006 – 2011: Business development director, Innovas Wales

2005: Conservative candidate for parliamentary seat of Conwy

2003: Conservative candidate for Welsh Assembly seat of Conwy

2002: Conservative candidate for parliamentary seat of Ogmore

1993 – 2011: Founder, Partneriaeth Egin Partnership

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Comments

There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Royston Fielding 8th April 2016 at 3:31 pm

    What a refreshing and open account from this MP of what goes on behind the scenes and only goes to prove that what many of have suspected about the FCA in particular, regarding the so-called ‘independent of Government’ tag, really is a sham…and Osborne must take us all as particularly dull to swallow this nonsense. The dreaded hand of Government continues to meddle and control, in an industry where, the so-called beneficiary of the so-called protection its Regulator purports to provide, is the poor man in the street who continues to get fleeced, not by the IFAs and other Advisers that have his interest genuinely at heart, but by the Regulatory / Governmental machine itself. Well done Guto Bebb!

  2. As I’ve been banging on about for years……

  3. This is exactly the emotion that we could develop IF we united. MPs are not going to do a Guto unless they are pressured by Impartial Advisers.

    Each adviser has seen his regulatory costs expand by £15 per working day in the last 3 years.

    Libertatem membership is less than £1 per working day – As Jeff Prestridge said when we launched “Its a no brainer”

  4. I have been in The Securities Investment Board was created followed by FIMBRA the PIA The FSA and now the FCA. When Jim Gower wrote his initial report the following statement have always stayed in my mind.

    It would be refreshing if Andrew Bailey had a copy of the Professor Jim Gower comment below

    “strictness of the regulations, should not be greater than is needed adequately to protect investors and this, emphatically, does not mean that it should seek to achieve the impossible task of protecting fools from their own folly.

    All it should do is to try to prevent people being made fools of. . . One has to make a value judgment on the relative weight to be attached to market freedom and to investor protection”

    May be the TSC ought to quote this to Mr Bailey and ask him how he would go about the task of Achieving Prof Jim Gower’s aims

    Unfortunately, I was going to put a link to an excellent article written by the late Christopher Fildes in the telegraph It is now being taken off the site. telegraph.co.uk/finance/2744791

    When I read this article Dec 2001 . I still have a the copy For some reason it one of those Articles I felt as was worth keeping. How true Christopher’s predictions in December 2001 have become.

    There’s no such thing as a free regulator, and already Sir Howard wants more

    GUESS what Sir Howard Davies wants for Christmas. That’s right: regulators. Already his dockside tower is home to 2,000 of them, but now that they are a law unto themselves, he wants more.
    This week the Financial Services Authority (Sir Howard is its first chairman) formally acquired powers that transcend the Bill of Rights. It is accountable to no one and has its own exemption from judicial review. Indeed, it has its own judicial system, tastefully accommodated in Lady Ottoline Morrell’s old town house.

    To think that all this began with Professor Jim Gower, who said that there was too much regulation already and saw no case for protecting fools from their own folly. All that regulation should do was to try to stop people being made fools of. He put up a scheme for this.

    Now, two Acts of Parliament later, schemes and regulators and their acronyms have come and gone – Fimbra, I suggested, was a condition of terminal darkness, from the Latin finis, an end, and umbra, a shade – and each one has made the next inevitable.
    There will be an outcry for a new Act and even wider powers, though the nimble Sir Howard will have moved on by then. Buyers of financial services will demand compensation when something goes wrong, as it always will.
    They have been led to believe that regulation has been thrown in at no cost to them, for their benefit. If it is free, they will want more of it and expect more from it, just as they would from a National Financial Health Service.

  5. I can’t help being cynical. Another MP currying favour with our sector. What happened to the last two? If it helps them up the greasy pole and they add a few votes into the bargain they’ll set out to please anyone.

    Trust in Regulation – that’s a non sequitur. Do you trust a traffic warden, or the Tax Office or any of the other myriad regulators? Of course you don’t; if you did they wouldn’t be a very effective regulator.

  6. Swap misselling has damaged the economy no end, and was signed off by a gullible FSA (now FCA) who specified a “commission limit” test for acceptability.
    Unfortunately, this allows a high risk/ high return product to be sold. Capital risk, collaterallisation risk and creditworthiness risk were airbrushed out of the presentations.
    Now banks won’t sell loans without pushing derivatives or fixes, and borrowers are justifiably nervous. “Lend to gouge” tactics turned into “lend to grab” in the recession, with GRG type units fleecing clients which were unable to refinance due to the swap.
    A combination of technical expertise and sound advocacy, plus putting the right people from the bank in the witness box ( no- I don’t mean Bob Diamond or Rich Ricci) will finally bring out the truth in this sorry saga, as judges listen to the examination of salesmen, loan underwriters and derivatives pricers who clearly knew what was going on.

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