Julian Knight: We're just crying out for a consumer champion
Sunday 06 February 2011
Martin who? You could be tempted to ask when the chief executive of the new CPMA – the replacement for the failed FSA – was announced the other day.
The Government has appointed, in Martin Wheatley, someone completely unfamiliar to British consumers. But Mr Wheatley has an excellent track record as former deputy chief executive of the London Stock Exchange and, most recently, six years as Hong Kong's financial watchdog. As anyone who has spent any time in Hong Kong knows, the former colony lives and breathes financial services, with product sophistication the match of the UK and consumer knowledge much better. By all accounts, his tenure was successful and he will be abundantly familiar with some of the severe capital issues facing the banking system.
However, there is a big "but" for me in Mr Wheatley's appointment. The Consumer Protection and Markets Authority isn't a direct match for the FSA – it's supposed to be a new body dedicated to protecting the consumer. The old FSA was completely dominated by people who had worked in financial services and, until very late in its life, consumers seemed an afterthought. It was a far-too-chummy operation, with regulation all about box-ticking exercises rather than spotting the varied and ever-changing consumer abuses of the financial-services industry.
The CPMA was supposed to be a clear break from that past. The Bank of England would look after the numbers while the new body would be focused solely on consumer protection. The unworkable dichotomy at the heart of the FSA – that it was supposed to protect the interests of consumers and the financial services industry – was to be avoided. But Mr Wheatley's appointment strikes me as very much "old FSA". This appointment was a great opportunity to set a marker down that we were in a different era in which being completely au fait with the City and the characters that populate it was less important than understanding that there is a moral dimension to the provision of financial services. And, that, in future, the industry and every product it offers would be judged from the simple premise of whether it adds to the consumer good, or not.
The old FSA had started to make the right steps in this direction, too late to save its reputation, of course. My fear is that under a Conservative-led government (which is hardly ideologically suited to a regulator that will have to tell powerful institutions at times to, frankly, get stuffed), and with a City-focused head, the CPMA won't fulfil the role we desperately need it to.
We could well be in danger of swapping a poorly focused and rather gutless body with one that is similar but with less power, a much smaller budget and a lower profile. It is too early to judge which way the CPMA will go, and Mr Wheatley is certainly a capable individual, but he needs to appoint well within the new organisation and value an understanding of the consumer over – but not to the complete exclusion of – an understanding of the City. A consumer champion is what we need.
Moral investment compass
Regular readers will know I am an unashamed fan of emerging markets. They have the growth, productivity, huge skill development potential and, crucially, demographics on their side. But for investors, the past couple of weeks in Egypt highlight the all too often ignored fly in the emerging-market ointment – political instability.
For the past couple of years, Egypt has been a slow burner of an investment story – not as stand-out as the Bric countries, or for that matter the other rising Islamic economic star, Turkey, but compared with the rest of the African continent, a potential investment winner. Five per cent economic growth a year is not too shabby any benchmark.
On my visit to Egypt last year, I saw how the infrastructure had been improved and – a sure sign of a burgeoning economy – the cars on the roads were expensive and new, and this is in an economy which doesn't rely one iota on consumer debt. Yet corruption and cronyism are everywhere, as are the secret police. And it's a country with such a specialism in torture that the Bush administration allegedly contracted out to it much of its dirty work.
But a major draw for foreign investors big and small was that it was said to be stable. Yet the very thing that made it so stable – Mubarak's oppressive regime – is what now makes it unstable. Now investors in Egypt face the fact that the banks are closed and, if they want to, it's not going to be easy to get their money out of the country. It goes to show that it's best not to be so blinded by the emerging-market story that you take your eye off your moral compass.
Lies, damned lies and the ONS
Officials at the Office for National Statistics have been rather spiky after suggestions in this newspaper that its horrendous fourth-quarter 2010 figures will almost certainly have to be revised up.
The ONS has form in this area, with its initial pronouncements – which are based on around half of returns and leave out some of the national economy's big hitters – having to be revised upwards, quite considerably, in the past. I don't quite understand why it is that the ONS can't wait to release its figures until it has the overwhelming majority of returns.
Who knows how many real business decisions were made in response to these flawed numbers? To paraphrase the famous wartime saying, careless forecasting costs jobs.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
Banks are brought to account by switchers as growing number of people expect to be rewarded by their bank
Bargain Hunter: Playmobil plays to the gallery with discounts on its toy range
How to start your own internet business
Five ways to make money on the internet
- 1 North Korea: Kim Jong Un 'sacks powerful uncle and has his aides executed'
- 2 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 3 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 4 A forgotten episode in Russian history leaves links with the Philippines
- 5 ‘Put it in my mouth’: Viewers outraged by apparent reference to oral sex in VIP e-cig advert
iJobs Money & Business
£Negotiable: Citifocus: The role will suit a fund product specialist, current...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits : Harrington Starr: An award wi...
£300 - £400 per day: Harrington Starr: My client is currently looking for an e...
£300 - £400 per day: Harrington Starr: My client is currently looking for an e...
Day In a Page
A four-bedroom home with exposed brick walls and open fires in the picturesque village of Northill
A Grade II-listed property with five bedrooms and unique tower, overlooking Hastings Old Town
A charming five-bedroom detached family home, set within half an acre in Kew
A two-bedroom maisonette set on the top two floors of a period building, close to Kentish Town Tube.
Take advantage of the extra space provided by former stables and outbuildings at this five-bedroom farmhouse.
This three-bedroom Victorian terrace is near to Queen’s Road Peckham station, Nunhead station.
A five-bedroom modern house with terrace, swimming pool, Zen treehouse and large carp pond
An unexpected gem with four bedrooms, remarkable vaulted reception and a galleried study area
A five-bedroom house in one of Lymington's most sought after tree lined avenues, moments from the marinas and sailing clubs
A grand early 19th century B&B close to the historic harbour, with four en suite bedrooms
A four-bedroom, 17th century home with walled gardens, a landscaped terrace, cellar and open fires
A six-bedroom house with five bathrooms and four reception rooms spread over 4,000sq ft of luxury living space
A stunning three double-bedroom apartment with two decked terraces in the exclusive gated community, Bromyard House
A 10-bedroom period, family home amid beautiful surroundings in the centre of the Wentworth Estate in Longcross village
A stylish three-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and private landscaped garden, moments from Fitzroy Square
A Grade II-listed Elizabethan barn with landscaped gardens, exposed elm beams and four bedrooms, all with lovely views
A six-bedroom family home, dating back to 1280 with four reception rooms, barn, swimming pool and tennis courts in Harwell
A spacious two-bedroom flat, refurbished to a very high standard with private landscaped garden, close to Kentish Town station
An exceptional two-bedroom apartment with balcony and underground parking in the centre of Richmond
A one-bedroom, luxury, duplex apartment in the grand landmark building, Imperial Hall
Run a fabulous boutique shop, live above it in a one-bedroom flat and let a second one-bedroom flat that comes part and parcel
A Grade-II listed, thatched cottage in Hundleby village, with five bedrooms, a coach house and three and a half acres
A spacious two-bedroom flat in the heart of Hoxton Square with wooden floors and roof terrace
A five-bedroom family home with stunning pool and gym complex set among two acres of land
A six-bedroom period house with heated swimming pool and a separate two-bedroom annexe cottage in Townlake, £795,000
A spacious and contemporary two-bedroom flat arranged over three floors, with garden patio close to St George Square, £600,000
A one-bedroom flat in a beautiful Regency building opposite the beach in Kemp Town, £190,000
A two-bedroom flat with London skyline views close to Surrey Quays. £395,000.
A seven-storey tower with three bedrooms and a stunning roof terrace. Guide price: £850,000.
A 16-bedroom country pile with nine reception rooms, four self-contained flats and a 13th century Peel Tower. £850,000.
A classic six-bedroom Victorian Manse house 10 miles from Edinburgh. £495,000.
John Lennon's childhood home in Liverpool to be sold at auction. Guide price: £150,000-£250,000.
A six-bedroom detached period property with secluded gardens, ample parking and a double garage in Rye, £675,000.
A large split-level property with three double-bedrooms and roof terrace, close to Crouch End Broadway, £625,000.
A charming barn conversion in the picturesque Cotswold village of Ilmington with three bedrooms, a detached garage, workshop and beautifully manicured gardens £675,000.
A three-bedroom new build, ground-floor flat with two bathrooms, close to Bermondsey tube, £445,000.
A three-bedroom house in an enviable new development moments from Oxshott High Street, with secluded garden and decked area, £385,000
A two-bedroom split-level flat with stunning south-west facing roof terrace in the popular Brondesbury Conservation Area, £549,950.
A charming 16th century, three-bedroom detached house in Bidborough with picturesque garden
A top-floor one-bedroom flat in the heart of Pimlico with a terrace providing spectacular views over London, £495,000.
A six-bedroom house, with three reception rooms, 1.5 acres of land and stables, £450,000.