The FSA's ten biggest fines

The financial spanks are getting harder. Although the headline total amount of fines are edging close to the £300m mark since a decade ago, it is small beer compared to the huge profits made by many financial corporates.

But let's have quick look at the current top ten. The bigger question - do these financial spanks really hurt? - remains open to question...
1. Offender: JP Morgan

The punishment: £33.3m fine

Date: 3 August 2010

Why it was fined: JP Morgan failed to segregate client money effectively. FSA rules insist companies need to keep client funds in separate accounts in case the financial company becomes insolvent - despite JP Morgan being one of the largest holders of client money in the UK.

How much cash was risked by JP Morgan? Estimates vary somewhere between $1.9bn and $23bn. This £33.32m punishment is the FSA's biggest fine on record ever, and righty so. Had JP Morgan gone under, it's likely their client money would have also sunk beneath the waves too.

2. Offender: Goldman Sachs

The punishment: £17.5m fine

Date: 9 September 2010

Why it was fined: "For weaknesses in controls resulting in failure to provide FSA with appropriate information." Basically Goldman did not tell the FSA it was under investigation for allegations of mortgage marketing fraud by the US financial watchdog.

Goldman also did not let on to the FSA that Fabrice Tourre, the trader who helped mastermind these mortgage products, was under investigation.

3. Offender: Shell

The punishment: £17m fine

Date: 24 August 2004

Why it was fined: Telling porkies about its oil and gas reserves. The Financial Services Authority accused Shell of "unprecedented misconduct". following a shock disclosure that the oil giant had downgraded its oil reserves by 20% to meet SEC guidelines. Investors, to put it mildly, were Shell-shocked.

Shell also took a further £67m fine from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. At the time, this £17m fine was the biggest imposed by the FSA, by around a multiple of four.

4. Offender: Citigroup Global Markets

The punishment: £13.9m fine

Date: 28 June 2005

Why it was fined: Citigroup got clobbered because it breached "FSA Principles 2 and 3 by failing to conduct its business with due skill, care and dilligence". Citigroup traders flogged around £7bn of European government bonds. Shortly after they repurchased nearly £3bn at much lower prices.

Huge profits were made but electronic trading centres were overwhelmed; the episode caused major angst from European financial regulators. The FSA saw no evidence that Citi deliberately misled the market - that would have seen a far higher penalty. The fine here was £13,960,860. (Couldn't the FSA have rounded it up to an even £14 mill?)

5. Offender: HSBC

The punishment: £10.5m fine

Date: 2 December 2011

Why it was fined: "For failings in suitability of investment advice provided by NHFA Limited". In less stuffy language, flogging suspect financial products to the old and vulnerable though a subsidiary, NHFA. An actuary would have certainly wondered why HSBC were selling investment products to those with an average life expectancy of almost 83.

Market abuse? The FSA thought so: "NHFA was the leading supplier in the UK of independent financial advice on long-term care products to help pay for care costs, with a market share in recent years approaching 60%."

6. Offender: UBS AG

The punishment: £8m fine

Date: 5 November 2009

Why it was fined: more systems and controls failure, enabling four employees to carry out unauthorised transactions involving customer money on at least 39 accounts. The unauthorised activity, which took place between January 2006 and December 2007 at UBS' London-based wealth management business, came to light when a whistleblower raised concerns internally.

Crucially, a key member of staff here was subsequently the first individual fined by the FSA, not for their own wrongdoing but for their own oversight failures.

7. Offender: Barclays

The punishment: £7.7m fine

Date: 18 January 2011

Why it was fined: For poor investment advice connected to two high-risk funds - which later nose-dived in value. Between 2006 and 2008 Barclays flogged Aviva's Global Balanced Income Fund and Global Cautious Income Fund to well over 12,000 investors. Many people lost huge parts of their live savings

By the time of the fine, Barclays has already shelled out £17m in compensation. But the FSA estimated up to £42m would still have to be paid out.

8. Offender: Toronto Dominion Bank

The punishment: £7m fine

Date: 17 December 2009

Why it was fined: "For repeated systems and controls failings around the pricing of sophisticated financial products." Tut, tut, tut and a failing from one of Canada's largest banks. The FSA found that Toronto Dominion failed to follow procedures in ensuring trader's books were independently verified, and did not have adequate controls in place which could have detected pricing issues.

Toronto cooperated with the FSA, settling early to escape a larger £10m fine. It should be added that Canadian banks enjoy, on the whole, a higher governance reputation than many other international banking players.

9. Offender: Alliance & Leicester

The punishment: £7m fine

Date: 17 December 2009

Why it was fined: "For serious failings in its telephone sales of payment protection insurance." For three years from January 2005 to December 2007 A&L sold approximately 210,000 PPI policies to customers seeking a personal loan at an average price of £1,265. "But there was a general failure by advisers to give customers details of the cost of PPI," said the FSA.

In addition A&L sought to find reasons to sell PPI without properly considering what customers needed, the City watchdog concluded.

10. Offender: Willis Ltd

The punishment: £6.8m fine

Date: 21 July 2011

Why it was fined: A leading UK insurance broker, Willis failing to enforce anti-bribery systems following suspicious payments in Russia and Egypt. £27m of payments to overseas third parties helped the company take on new business.

"The involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector," the FSA said.
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