One of the worst press offices of 2014 was the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). As the main regulator for the financial services industry this is not good news for financial journalists.
My experience of the FCA press office in January suggests there have been no positive New Year resolutions.
The FCA last March laid on a special briefing for the Daily Telegraph about changes to annuities. The article that followed resulted in the share price of annuity providers plummeting. One of the FCA’s jobs is to regulate the release of price sensitive information to stop just that sort of thing happening.
A review of the FCA by Simon Davis of law firm Clifford Chance, described the FCA strategy as “high-risk, poorly supervised and inadequately controlled”. The briefer, Clive Adamson, head of supervision, and Zitah McMillan, the director of communications, did a long walk off a short plank.
Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Committee, said the errors “went all the way to the top”, but Martin Wheatley, the FCA’s chief executive (CEO) only lost his bonus worth, reportedly, up to £115,000.
Can’t answer, won’t answer
My latest experience of the FCA press office started on 8 January. I phoned and followed that up with an email. I had an answer with some detailed quotes naming individual regulations and some web links. I queried the accuracy of the press officer’s interpretation of the individual rules and quoted a further section of the same rules back, asking specific questions. I asked to have an interview with a named official and offered to come in to the FCA’s office to do the interview in person, if need be.
The following day the press officer asked me the angle of the story and I told her. It then went quiet. I chased on 13 and then 14 January – my deadline was 15 January. A quote was “being signed off”, she said.
The statement arrived by email at 17.28 and failed to answer my questions. It also said that to quote individual sections of the regulations was meaningless – yet that was exactly what the FCA press office had done initially.
I replied that this did not answer my questions and asked to speak to someone urgently in the morning. That got nowhere. You can read the correspondence in full on my personal blog at chriswheal.com (new window).
This is all too typical for journalists. We have to write a story based on the information we have at the time. If we are not given answers to questions, or we put statements to people and they are not countered with evidence, we have to assume we got it right. We have to run with what we have, even if it is incomplete.
What is also typical – and frustrating – is filing to deadline and then being informed that publication is being held over for two weeks.