Financial crime and serious fraud within the corporate sector is increasingly being targeted by prosecutors and regulators, as the eradication of so-called ‘white collar crime’ has become a prominent concern for successive UK governments over the decade.
Regulation of the financial services industry is now largely overseen by the Bank of England. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ensures regulatory compliance by financial firms providing services to consumers and investigates financial crime. If you work in the financial services industry and find yourself subject to an investigation by the FCA it is essential that you get the best quality legal advice at the outset to help deal with the authorities and any demands made on you as part of their investigations.
Such investigations can be deeply damaging to you and your business, as the prospect of restraint of assets and confiscation proceedings can have a serious impact. With your livelihood and reputation at risk you need to be certain that you can call on experienced legal professionals to offer the most robust defence to any charges made against you. The Financial Crime Solicitors at Wilford Smith have the required skills, knowledge and determination to ruthlessly develop a top-level strategy on your behalf, ensuring the best outcome in any case.
What is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)?
The FCA acts as the main regulator for the financial markets in the UK, with the power to bring criminal proceedings and regulatory enforcement proceedings against individuals and institutions when there is evidence of misconduct in the financial services industry. The FCA replaced the Financial Services Authority, and its wide-ranging powers are used to investigate businesses or professional individuals in relation to breaches of financial codes of conduct. The scope of the FCA’s powers is extensive, going beyond the individuals, organisations and companies that it regulates. The FCA can compel anyone to produce evidence as part of its investigations, and has powers to seek compulsory interviews, compel production of documents, search an individual’s home or business premises and seize computers and electronic devices. The FCA focuses on a number of areas and practices to ensure that those undertaking business in the financial services industry do so in a responsible way and comply with relevant standards and regulations.
The FCA has the power to enforce UK and EU competition law, which forbids practices such as the formation of cartels and other anti-competitive agreements and the abuse of dominant market positions. A cartel would include agreements to fix prices or share markets, while practices such as agreements between suppliers not to sell products or services below a particular price would represent an anti-competitive agreement. A company may abuse a dominant market position by selling products or services at a price that does not cover the costs in an effort to drive competitors out of business, before increasing prices again.
The Enforcement division of the FCA takes action against firms and individuals who fail to follow financial rules, demonstrating that there are real consequences for those who engage in prohibited practices. These powers are wide ranging, including criminal, civil and regulatory powers, and aim to offer protection to customers and to punish those who fail to meet the FCA’s standards. Actions that can be taken by the FCA include withdrawal of a firm’s authorisation, suspending or prohibiting individuals from carrying out regulated activities, issuing fines and bringing criminal proceedings.
The FCA has responsibility for authorising firms and individuals offering ‘regulated activities’, providing a gateway for those that wish to operate in the financial services industry. Without authorisation and registration by the FCA an individual or company will not be permitted to carry out these activities. This authorisation power allows the FCA to supervise those who undertake financial services activities, ensuring that their businesses are run in the best interests of consumers, and that the integrity of the financial services industry is upheld. Before they will be given authorisation to operate in the market, applicants must meet a range of registration requirements, giving the FCA the opportunity to review a firm’s business plan, budgets, risks, systems and controls. Under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, it is the responsibility of the firm to determine whether its activities require to be authorised by the FCA, and to seek clarification if there is any uncertainty regarding this. Failure to address authorisation is a criminal offence, so directors and officers should seek legal advice if required in regards to this.
How does the FCA deal with regulatory breaches?
As part of its regulatory role, the FCA can bring disciplinary proceedings against authorised firms for regulatory breaches. For firms involved in such practices, the FCA has the power to impose fines, withdraw or vary a firm or individual’s authorisation, issue financial penalties or issue warnings, supervisory and decision notices.
How does the FCA deal with criminal breaches?
For criminal offences, the FCA will pursue prosecution through the criminal courts, with penalties for conviction including significant prison sentences and financial orders. Criminal matters that will be investigated by the FCA include mis-selling, money laundering, insider dealing, market rigging, obstruction of an FCA investigation, and perimeter breaches in which authorised activities have been carried out by an unauthorised individual.
Why choose Wilford Smith?
Wilford Smith’s solicitors are experienced in advising clients in relation to investigations by the FCA, as well as working with individuals and firms operating in the financial services industry to help avoid FCA enforcement investigations. We take pride in our client-focused approach that promises to deliver straightforward advice and effective solutions. We know how distressing an investigation by enforcement authorities such as the FCA can be, but we will work hard to minimise the stress involved and maximise the chance of getting you the best possible outcome.
Contact our FCA Defence Solicitors, England and Wales
Our solicitors are based in Sheffield and London and assist clients throughout England and Wales. For expert legal advice and representation from solicitors who put your interests first, contact us today on 01709 828 044.