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U.K. Finance Watchdog Urges More Whistle-Blowers to Raise Alarm

By Jonathan Browning

Britain’s markets watchdog sought to reassure finance workers raising the alarm about misconduct in the industry following a wave of criticism over the treatment of whistle blowers.

The Financial Conduct Authority said it had boosted the number of staff dealing with tip offs of potential wrongdoing to 16 from 9 in 2019 and said financial workers can feel safe when they come forward. The changes follow last year’s 9% fall in the number of new disclosures to the FCA.

“We listen to all whistle-blowers and, if they shine a light on serious misconduct, we want to make sure we act responsibly,” Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA, said in a statement Wednesday. When industry insiders dare to share their stories “it helps consumers, markets and firms and keeps everyone safe and that is our aim.”

Regulators have placed whistle-blowing, and the protection of those raising the alarm, at the of efforts to avoid misconduct and scandals since the financial crisis. But the FCA has faced repeated criticism about the speed of its response and failure to shield individuals following a series of high-profile cases.

The FCA’s ability to support individuals has come under the most criticism. Barclays Plc chief Jes Staley survived a year-long regulatory probe into his attempts to unmask a whistle-blower, escaping with a fine instead of losing his job.

'No Additional Protection’

Georgina Halford-Hall, chief executive of the Whistleblowers U.K group, said she’s “genuinely very skeptical” of the proposed changes. “Whistle-blowers need someone proactive and who’s on their side,” she said. “This campaign provides no additional protection to whistle-blowers and therefore it does not incentivize people to come forward.” Is Enel's Integrated Reporting Key in the Corporate Push for Sustainability?

The FCA said it would not share the existence of a whistle-blowing complaint unless legally obliged to do so but then added it will not typically support whistle-blowers in court proceedings.

Halford-Hall said the FCA’s campaign was a missed opportunity to strengthen protections.

“These informed insiders are the board’s best friend. They’re the ones with integrity and yet they are the ones who are so often pilloried.”

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