Financial justice is rarely swift in this country. The wheels turn excruciatingly slowly and examples of judicial or regulatory procrastination are aplenty. Unfair? Of course. But sadly it seems the wheels will not be speeding up in the near future.
It took 11 years for customers of Equitable Life to receive compensation after the insurer nearly collapsed, causing their policies to plunge in value.
Twenty years on from that near meltdown, investors are still valiantly demanding more – £4billion (the amount they lost) instead of the £1.4billion that has so far been handed out by the Government.
Unfair: Neil Woodford has retreated to his multi-million pound home in the Cotswolds to enjoy the good life
I wish them well although I don’t hold out much hope for them in these challenging times.
Victims of banking malpractice in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, and its aftermath, are also still fighting for justice with class actions before the courts. A chance of victory is on the horizon, but no more. Legal hurdles need to be cleared and courts to be convinced.
It also seems that those who lost money in the mismanagement of investment fund Woodford Equity Income – some up to 50 per cent of the value of their original investment – will have to wait quite a while for financial justice to be served.
Litigation specialists are edging closer to mounting group class actions against companies involved in the fund debacle – namely Woodford’s supervisor Link and wealth manager Hargreaves Lansdown which aggressively promoted the fund right up until it was closed in June last year.
Harcus Parker appears to be leading the charge with a claim likely to be issued – hiccups notwithstanding – against Link before the year is out.
But when it presses the green button, success is not guaranteed – and only those investors who support the claim will take a slice of any spoils. It could be another two years before we get to such a position. Frustrating for aggrieved investors of which there are plenty.
Of course, justice could come sooner if the financial regulator does the job it is paid to do – which is to protect consumers and secure redress for them when they have been victims of financial wrongdoing. Indeed, it would remove the need for any of the class actions. For the past 17 months, it has been investigating the events leading up to the fund’s closure, but it has yet to pronounce on what it intends to do. All it would say last week was that its probe is a ‘priority matter’.
Unlike the litigation, the Financial Conduct Authority’s focus is not just on Link or Hargreaves Lansdown. It is also looking at the role of Neil Woodford in the fund’s suspension and ultimate demise – and in particular the game of Russian Roulette he played with investors’ money by investing it in a toxic mix of unquoted and illiquid stocks.
So far, Woodford has not been held to account. Bankrolled by the millions of pounds he earnt from the failed fund – outrageously, a chunk of it while it was suspended – he has retreated to his multi-million pound home in the Cotswolds to enjoy the good life.
He’s even been touting for business in China, although coronavirus seems to have put that project on hold.
While most Woodford Equity Income investors I speak to want financial justice – delivered either through the courts or via the regulator – they also believe Woodford must carry the can. I agree.
The regulator’s findings cannot be published soon enough – investors deserve nothing less.
And when they see the light of day, they must pack a punch that Muhammad Ali would have been proud of. That means financial redress for investors and enforcement action against those responsible for one of the biggest investment fund debacles of recent times.
Through their high street presence, post offices generate £1.1billion of revenue for local businesses – as customers use their trip to town to have a coffee or a meal, or use other services.
As the Post Office says, it is an ‘anchor’ of the high street.
So why can banks – an equally vital local service – be allowed to shut their branches at a rate quicker than confetti falls at a wedding – without any form of accountability?
Their presence has a similar galvanising effect on the high street. Do email me if you have any thoughts on this.