SFA discipline plans face City backlash

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Opposition is mounting in the City to radical proposals by the Securities and Futures Authority (SFA) to hold top banking executives responsible for calamitous failures in their organisations, such as those that befell Barings or Morgan Grenfell

Replies to the regulator's consultation document show widespread dismay over plans that would seek to hold top officials accountable even though they may have had no line responsibility for those directly to blame.

Most controversial of all is the move by the SFA to shift the burden of proof in disciplinary cases, so that senior executives will have to prove they acted correctly rather than the SFA having to show they failed in their duties.

The proposals were born out of frustration, and public outcry, at the SFA's inability to discipline the two men who ran Barings when it collapsed last year, Peter Baring, the chairman, and his deputy, Andrew Tuckey.

The SFA is proposing that senior executives take responsibility for "serious financial damage" to a firm or its reputation. That is too wide a definition for many.

"Our members' difficulty is with the combination of reversing the burden of proof," said Peter Beales, director at the London Investment Bankers Association, which was among the respondents to proposals. Peter Vipond, assistant director at the British Bankers Association, which also commented on the rules, would like to see a more sophisticated approach.

"It's not just down to nailing an individual. We need a more sophisticated framework for the management of risk within firms. The SFA's proposals may not help that."

At a recent seminar run by Coopers & Lybrand, the accountancy firm, to discuss the proposals, 65 firms attended and only two or three believed they required no changes.

Nick Durlacher, chairman of the SFA, said he was expecting the proposals to cause controversy and draw a hostile reaction in the consultation phase, which ended this week.

"The consultation was not meant to be an empty gesture," said Mr Durlacher. "But there's an expectation, which derives from Barings ... that it takes two to make a muddle, the other is the failure of management."