Skilled persons focus on CASS and Conduct in small firms

12 November 2015

The FCA has published statistics on the skilled persons reports commissioned in Q2 2015/16.

The most striking aspect is the continuing trend, which first emerged last year, of the number of reports being used against the smallest firms that the FCA supervises. This is at odds with the message – repeated by the FCA Chairman at today's WMA Summit – that smaller firms (to become known as 'flexible portfolio' firms) will learn from thematic engagement more than intervention and enforcement.

Of the 13 reports commissioned in the quarter, nine were for the firms falling within the C4 category. The FCA and the FSA before it both used s.166 and s.166A for such small firms, but it is surprising how frequently, in the past year, this power is now being exercised in relation to a category of firms who will really feel the burden of the costs of these reports. Indeed this does raise a question about how proportionate the FCA is being in the use of this power. These statistics may also highlight problems with the FCA's model for supervision of the C4 category of firms if so many are finding their way through to this intensive and costly form of supervision. Perhaps this is why the FCA is changing its supervision model with a view to more thematic work to "address issues and drive improvements across the industry rather than concentrating on individual firms".

The huge numbers of smaller firms, compared to the numbers of firms in the other 3 categories, may go some way to explain the statistics. Nonetheless it would be helpful were the FCA to provide an explanation for this trend – if only to reassure small firms that these statistics are not a result of larger firms 'getting away with it' by expending more resources earlier on in their supervisory engagement.

Also of note is that six of the 13 were classified as relating to Conduct of Business issues whilst five concerned Client Assets. The continued use of skilled persons reports to focus on these areas is unsurprising as they are core to the FCA's objectives. Instead the greater surprise is that there were no reports commissioned in the last quarter which related to financial crime.

These statistics also emphasised the FCA's continuing focus on the consumer credit sector. Firms falling within the consumer credit business type again recorded the highest number of reports (three out of 13 reports) compared with the other firm business types – in the first quarter of the year four out of the 14 commissioned reports were for consumer credit firms.

The PRA also produces statistics concerning its use of the skilled person power. In Q2 the PRA apparently commissioned just two reports (both relating to governance, controls and risk management), though these numbers are perhaps consistent with the number of firms that the PRA regulates compared to the FCA.

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