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Tony Byrne: Why Gabriel is a comedy of errors

Many advisers are struggling with the FCA’s online reporting system.


I had been labouring my way through completing my firm’s latest Gabriel return when I decided to ring our compliance consultants for advice on how to complete one of its new sections.

The consultant told me his firm had received many calls from IFAs who were struggling to complete the form.  I asked him for his opinion of it and he said “The Gabriel return is a joke.” Coming from a compliance consultant I thought that was quite a telling comment.

Gabriel is an acronym for “gathering better regulatory information online”. No doubt an external consultancy firm was paid to create the acronym – yet the letter E is plonked in it without actually representing a word. Perhaps the FSA should have asked for a discount.

I’ve dreamt up an alternative acronym for Gabriel, which I’ve called Devil for the following reasons:

The document is difficult to complete. I’ve yet to complete it without getting multiple red warnings over errors in inputting data such as leaving a box blank when I should have entered zero.

The design of Gabriel and its navigation is outstandingly bad. The dictionary definition of egregious is shocking, appalling, terrible, awful, horrendous, frightful, atrocious, abominable, abhorrent, outrageous.  I think these descriptions are fitting.

It is virtual in the sense that it is an online form but that assumes it’s useable. When I completed the form I was thrown out of the system 11 times out of 15 attempts, often when I was part way through completing the form. I couldn’t click through to the help and frequently asked questions section of the site, despite several attempts.  Also, Gabriel has weekday and weekend opening and closing times like a shop. Whatever happened to 24/7? You really couldn’t make it up, could you?

It’s an incredibly irritating form to complete.  Where there are figures none of them are automatically added up for you like in an Excel spreadsheet.  The language is unfamiliar and confusing like Sir Humphrey’s civil service speak in ‘Yes Minister!’  I’ve never heard anyone in the real world us the word “decumulation.”

Why isn’t the form pre-populated with answers from the last completed return to be edited or updated?  Why are answers not automatically used to pre-populate other sections of the form which require the same answer. so you avoid having to input the same data more than once?

I was going to make the acronym devilish rather than devil by adding the words illogical, soul destroying and ham-fisted but it would have made this article exceed its permitted word count.

I hate to think how much of my firm’s hard-earned money paid to the FSA in fees was used to pay for this system. However much it cost was too much.

Like most government bodies the FSA, or FCA as it is now known, is good at spending other people’s money wastefully.  This is just one of many examples I could give you of FCA waste. Just go along to its offices at Canary Wharf and you will be stunned and dismayed at how much money has been spent not only on building its offices but also on furnishing and decorating them.

Tony Byrne is financial planning director at Wealth And Tax Management


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There are 20 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Preparing balance sheets and profit and loss accounts midway through your own financial year is a nightmare. You have to be a virtual accountant to complete this ridiculous form. Woe betide anyone who makes a mistake, you are threatened with severe measures and reminded time again that you have committed a criminal offence. Disgraceful waste of money paid to them from our very hard earned income. A resubmission comes with a 9 week wait for an acknowledgement and another threat of measures if you dare make another mistake. Complete shambles

  2. This is the most useless, time consuming, utter waste of time and resource I have ever had the misfortune to deal with !!
    And what in all that’s holy, are the new sections all about ? what exactly do they do with this info ?

    Hate it !!

  3. RMAR section K is the one to have a go at. We have written to the FCA asking for an exemption from filling that section in and we will refuse to complete it until it is either withdrawn or substantially modified. News item for Money Marketing perhaps?
    We can forensically demonstrate that Section K is incompatible with advice based firms – it has been designed by product focussed idiots to fit their narrow minded, product concentric view of the world. I worked with AIFA during May 2011 to help them feedback concerns to the FSA’s Consultation Paper on Data Reporting and was told later that the FSA would not listen, it was a done deal. Arrogant bar stewards. So what we have are questions being asked which simply cannot be answered or recorded. No back office system is designed to provide the answers and no financial package like Sage can either.
    Several examples. Client pays on-going adviser charge and the on-going service is subject to VAT. Think that through FCA. Hourly charged clients who use the services of differing staff on different hourly rates – we have to calculate the equivalent hourly rate for each piece of advice. The FCA want the cost of advice before deductions of things like on-going trail, retainers etc. Not the net invoice which appears on Sage or IO. Oh and we have to deduct that element of advice which relates to protection say….
    AIFA failed us, the FCA failed us, the consultation process failed (we responded) and now the FCA will spend huge amounts of money defending their actions, correcting their systems and clarifying their guidance. What is difficult about recording that we charge £170 per hour for senior adviser, £150ph for adviser, £100ph for a paraplanner services and £50ph for Secretarial work. And the costs depends only on complexity and scope of ADVICE.
    The sad thing is that most people reading this do not understand the issues since either they are not DA (e.g. networked) or are not responsible for completing the RMAR.

  4. The reporting system is a real pain and even with my excellent IT skills and immaculate book keeping I always find that it takes a long time and I have to have help from my accountant which costs a fortune.

    The regulator doesnt trust anyone, thats why they wont prepopulate or add things up for you.

    Of course the crooks and unregulated schemers dont have to do a return.

    Another thing, if someone wants to set themselves up as a thief and use financial services they will, no amount of regulation and reporting will stop that.

    FCA stop over regulating the good guys !

  5. I am pretty certain “GABRIEL” actually stands for gathering better regulatory information electronically….pleb! Gabriel is crap though!

  6. RE “anonymous”. I agree, why can’t the regulator accept the figures we submit to Companies House. Why do we have to prove our financial worth when it’s already in the public domain. For those unincorporated surely you should be asked “do you meet the minimum capital adequacy requirements?” If you don’t tell the truth you can be found out and “punished” later. After all who actually checks the veracity of the Gabriel return anyway. Lastly we meet the capital adequacy requirements today. I don’t have to check the books to know that. How does anyone know we will tomorrow?

  7. I am currently in dialogue with a perhaps surprisingly receptive FCA over Gabriel. They do need accounting information input in a standard format so they can process receipts electronically their end and they do look for anomalies and follow up. Whether they need bi-annual returns is another question entirely.

  8. Everything involving the regulator and IT is a bad joke… as is the norm for any Govt involvement with IT. NHS database? CSA?

    Not only is GABRIEL rubbish for all the reasons Tony lists, a load of the info still has to go by paper. Further, everytime the regulator has a new wheeze, we get another website to use with new logons etc. What a waste of our clients’ money and our time……. but then that’s what regulation ends up being.

  9. I bet the Russian media have a field day saying how controlled the UK is, how much regulation and control the British Government put on its population. Russian’s may not find it easy to travel outside of their country but they have far less bureaucracy.

  10. For obvious reasons I remain anonymous but I don’t think the FSA looks at the data. At least not with any automatic warnings i.e. they may well sample things randomly. I say this because I’ve deliberately put the odd bit of nonsense data in from time to time. Like, I mean millions out compared with last time. I wanted to see if they were doing their job: if they called, I was going to say it was a typoh. They’ve never called.

  11. From just about everything I read about the GABRIEL returns, they seem to be little more than yet another device concocted by the FSA, with malice aforethought, to make life even more difficult than it already is for intermediary firms. Is there really any other agenda? See Neil Liversidge’s comments last week on the subject.

    All and any pleas to the FSA for them to be redesigned and simplified, not to mention for it to explain what relevant and useful nuggets of information might actually be gleaned from most of the data they demand are just blithely brushed aside.

    The returns were designed with no industry consultation (not that that ever seems to make any difference), no negotiation and no collaboration over their design so as to strike any sort of balance between what data the FSA might reasonably seek to gather.

    Has the FSA ever actually identified anything in any of them that has enabled it to identify some activity or other that might be potentially harmful to consumers and to take appropriate action to head it off at the pass? It doesn’t actually have a great track record in that area, does it? The FSA publishes no such information and no body exists to force it to, so we have no idea whether these hated returns are of any practical value whatsoever. They’re just another element of the FSA’s manifestly pernicious agenda against small intermediaries ~ the pernicious agenda that Hector Sants denied at his appearance before the TSC in March 2011. The TSC failed totally to challenge this denial.

    Martin Wheatley has been quoted as having claimed that the FSA Mk.II is “a very different animal” from its predecessor. Anyone who chose, in this context, to interpret “very different” as meaning more reasonable, more willing to listen and more willing to adapt its procedures and processes to what practitioners can actually cope with would have been optimistic indeed. So far, it seems to be an even nastier and more vicious animal. To quote from the first post above “Woe betide anyone who makes a mistake, you are threatened with severe measures and reminded time again that you have committed a criminal offence.” Yet the FSA has the gall to claim no to be an aggressive regulator. To my way of thinking, that comes very close to a brazen lie.

    Shouldn’t APFA, as a top priority, be compiling a comprehensive dossier of evidence as the basis for a campaign for the establishment of an Independent Regulatory Oversight Committee to bring the FSA to heel? Unless such a Committe is created, regulation will continue to become worse and worse and even more expensive and mis-prioritised.

  12. During the second world war, when citizens were moved to the ghettos of Poland, each member of the household filled in a form detailing every item of belonging.
    Woe betide any family where something had been left off the list or where each member had not listed each item with exactly the same description as other members of the household

  13. Tony Byrne: Why Gabriel is a comedy of errors


    Tony Byrne: Why I’m not bright enough to undertand how to fill in a form, or why it has controls built in to it to stop omission and error.

    brave article

  14. It occurs to me to ask by what item of Statute, i.e. national English Law, it’s a “criminal” offence to fail to complete a GABRIEL return satisfactorily.

    Or is it, as I somewhat suspect, nothing but a criminal offence according to FSA law, which seems to be something entirely separate and different? Does the FSMA 2000 (now updated) actually grant the FSA such carte blanche powers outiwth recognised Statute?

    We really are in a bad situation, about as bad as it’s possible to imagine, if a regulator has the unbridled power to create and enforce by way of criminal sanctions its own laws.

  15. Anonymous through fear of regulatory reprisals 23rd August 2013 at 11:30 am

    It’s actually reassuring to hear that we are not alone. The completion of the RMAR returns twice a year is singularly the most pointless and time consuming regulatory burden ever invented. Because we TRY and get it right (and I know many firms who don’t even bother trying – “we just accept our back office software’s figures”) it takes us ages. And I mean DAYS of work. Trying to allocate thousands of items mostly of less than a few pounds each to categories such as whether it was Ci renewal or a life renewal, and then having to change categories for different sections etc is just mind numbingly pointless.
    It conflates so many otherwise simple issues.
    IF they want to know if we are financially sound (and that’s a whole different discussion anyway) then use our accounts or just ask for standalone financial data.
    If they want to check the “quality” of our advice then review it to find out – you don’t learn anything about quality from how much was paid for it.
    If they want to know what the ratio of new advice is between product categories than ask that explicitly and simply.
    In terms of identifying consumer risk, its so meaningless that it doesn’t even factor in that we might be charging so much less than another firm and yet advising on so much more – the computer analysed assessment of “consumer risk” will be wildly out. What if we advise on £100million of new investments a year but only charge 0.25%. Are we less risky then that a firm that advises on £10mill but charges 3%. NO, but we might appear so from the RMAR.
    And as for the new sections K and L – give me strength. E.g. For them to ask what the fee charged to the employer is as a percentage of the GPP annual premium!?? Has anyone any clue why that matters AT ALL – no money comes from the employee’s pot at all so what is the point of the question? It’s like asking London Zoo to state how much the entry fee is as a proportion of the cost of feeding the elephants. Utterly irrelevant and pointless. In fact it might be fun putting a spoof RMAR together – my guess is that less than half the spoof questions would be more pointless than the real ones are.
    The impression this all gives of the regulator is that they either don’t care about the burden they dish out (true I suspect), and/or don’t have any guidance from above suggesting that they should care about the burden (true I suspect) and/or that they are often clueless about why it is they are doing something and what the point is but just get on and do it anyway because some committee dreamed it up months earlier and now its their job so they don’t question it (true I suspect)
    I’m sure there are some great people over there – but without the right leadership, focus, training and objectives you will always end up with the time and cost consuming ineffective system that we currently have to work under, of which the RMAR return is the best proof.
    I challenge anyone at the FCA to come forward in person to defend the RMAR IN DETAIL, stake their professional reputation on it and engage in a detailed debate about each section of the RMAR and what it’s for, how it works and whether it achieves its aims effectively in a kind way on the industry. I doubt we will hear from anyone, which says it all frankly.

  16. I’ve used GABRIEL from both sides fo the fence. Tony Byrne, you’re an idiot.

  17. One of the welcome reliefs when resigning my FCA authorisation on 31st December was not having to do the Gabriel returns. I found the whole system so counter-intuitive that I would call the FSA each time and get them to take me through it. Those of you who are still in the industry should put a foot down and demand a simpler system.

  18. Neil F Liversidge 24th August 2013 at 3:54 pm

    APFA is working on this but I also urge all of you to write to your MP re’ this.

  19. @Julian
    You are correct in thinking we are in a much worse position than many imagine.
    The Enabling act 1933 gave unprecedented and frightening powers outwith the norm “Under the Act, the government had acquired the authority to pass laws without either parliamentary consent or control. Unprecedentedly, these laws could (with certain exceptions) even deviate from the Constitution. For this reason, the Enabling Act transformed Hitler’s government into a legal dictatorship”. The rest as they say is history.
    As soon as any civilised country allow laws to be adopted or ignored, without due process, they are no longer civilised as their citizens no longer have the protection of the law. Truly frightening.

  20. I just received a message from a DA colleague about the mind-numbing challenges of the GABRIEL returns. He wrote:-

    “The main issue for me is that we don’t record the data in the way that they request it and their terminology is not the language that we (or anyone else) use. Then, the FOS and the FSA use different names for the same things and want similar data but calculated differently. The simple question has to be: Why and what use does any of it serve?”

    My view is that it serves no use whatsoever other than to satisfy some nasty, malicious miscreant (or a team of them) at Canary Wharf whose main aim is to make life absolutely impossible for others.

    Before much longer, even the compliance support firms and maybe even the networks won’t be able to do them and then the FSA will start striking off firms left right and centre for “failing to deal with the regulator in an open and cooperative manner”.

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