The FCA issued an enforcement action recently against the CEO of Barclays –– as a result of the CEO’s attempt to identify a whistle-blower. (Click here for the FCA enforcement notice and here for a short summary of the facts of the case.) There have been impassioned comments about the appropriateness of the FCA’s response, i.e. a fine imposed on the CEO. However, I would like to focus on something else.
One of the most revealing aspects of FCA enforcement cases is how the issue comes to the FCA’s attention. Typically, FCA supervision or thematic work would identify serious shortcomings in a firm that lead to enforcement action. This one was rather interesting because there was none of that.
There was an internal investigation of the anonymous letters by Group Compliance which was formally closed on 9 January 2017. The FCA explained that “early in 2017”, the Board became aware of the CEO’s attempt to identify the whistle-blower and that after conducting its own investigation, the Board decided to refer the CEO to the FCA. Can you imagine this ten or twenty years ago? Unlikely, I would say.
There are a number of interpretations one could advance. However, I am inclined to see this as evidence of the significant progress made in corporate governance in recent years and of the maturity boards can achieve in the appropriate environment. I can guess that it may not have been easy for Barclays’ board to refer the CEO to the regulator, but who said that being a board director would be easy?