The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has censured London Capital & Finance (LCF) for its unfair and misleading financial promotions of minibonds.
The FCA does not consider it appropriate to impose a financial penalty on the firm as it is insolvent and in administration. To do so would only divert funds that the administrators may use for the benefit of bondholder creditors.
Financial promotions were used by LCF to market minibonds to retail investors. These promotions presented a misleading picture of the minibonds and made them appear a far more attractive investment than they were. Investors were not told about the true nature of the minibonds, including the presence of hidden charges and the high-risk and unsustainable nature of the lending being carried out by LCF.
The FCA found that LCF used bondholders’ money to fund seemingly independent comparison websites to showcase its minibonds next to safer investments, which had a lower rate of return. This had the effect of enticing retail investors into investing in LCF’s high-risk products. LCF also advertised the minibonds as ISA compatible when this was not the case.
Therese Chambers, Joint Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said:
‘LCF’s use of financial promotion led to bondholders, many of whom were vulnerable, investing in unsuitable, high-risk products.
‘We recognise our censure will not provide solace to those investors who lost out. But it is important we set out what went wrong at LCF and how their promotions misled people into parting with their money.’
LCF and those responsible for running it may have been involved in knowingly defrauding bondholders, a case which the Serious Fraud Office is considering carefully, and may have been the cause of much of the losses.
The FCA undertook a significant transformation plan to implement the recommendations of Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s review into the regulation of LCF. Additionally, the FCA has taken action to make more stringent its authorisation process, resulting in 1 in 4 applications being rejected for not being good enough, and firms having their permissions removed if they weren’t being used.
The FCA also put in place investment of £98m over three years to strengthen the FCA’s data analytics to better identify potentially problematic firms. In 2020, the FCA banned the mass-marketing of speculative illiquid securities – including speculative minibonds – to retail investors.