View from City Road: Regulators need sharper teeth

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The Independent Online
The public wigging of the North of England Building Society shows what a toothless dog the Securities and Investments Board is. The North of England encouraged people to switch their money out of company pension schemes - which is rarely advisable - and to invest in with-profits bonds without a proper understanding of the risks.

Repeating the faults of several life insurance companies, North of England failed to control its financial consultants, who misled and mis-advised some 2,000 customers, the compensation of whom may well cost it pounds 500,000 this year.

But whereas Lautro, the life insurance regulator, has regularly imposed fines of more than pounds 100,000 on miscreants, SIB's powers restrict it to a 'public statement of contravention of rules and regulations'. This is just not good enough.

Andrew Large, SIB's chairman, has recognised the damage done by SIB's weakness as a regulator. He hopes that banks and building societies will join the Personal Investment Authority, the body planned to take on the job of safeguarding private investors. This would at least allow consistent punishment for similar offences.

But Mr Large's job is made no easier by the Treasury's reluctance to introduce new investor protection legislation. The Chancellor should recognise the weaknesses of the 1986 Financial Services Act, and bite the bullet. Britain's regulators need stronger laws.