Neil Woodford needs permission to set up new firm, says FCA

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The City watchdog has said that the one-time star investment manager Neil Woodford, whose funds were shut down in 2019, still faces the outcome of a regulatory investigation over the collapse and will need authorisation before his plan to return to the investment management business.

In a highly unusual step, issuing a public statement about an individual’s business plans, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said Woodford’s comeback attempt was subject to securing its permission.

Mark Steward, the FCA’s director of enforcement and market oversight, said WCM Partners – the new investment business announced by Woodford over the weekend in a Sunday newspaper interview – would need to win permissionbefore commencing a regulated activity in the UK. Steward also said the watchdog would consider whether Woodford is a fit person to run a new investment company.

“In taking any decision on whether to authorise a firm, we consider whether it is ready, willing and organised to comply, on a continuing basis, with our requirements and standards. That includes, for example, the sustainability of the firm’s business model and the fitness of its management,” he said.

Woodford, once one of the biggest names in British finance before his previous fund lost retail customers thousands of pounds and was forced to close, said on Sunday he planned to open a new firm based in Jersey and Buckinghamshire.

The FCA said it was also in contact with the Jersey Financial Services Commission, the island’s regulator, and that they would share any information on applications.

Unlike his scandal-tainted Woodford Equity Income Fund, which is subject to an investigation from the FCA, the former star stock picker said the new business would focus on professional investors rather than retail clients.

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However, questions have been raised over Woodford’s suitability to stage any such return to managing money.

The fund manager and activist Gina Miller, best-known for mounting a legal challenge over Brexit but who has also campaigned on consumer protection standards, wrote to the Commons Treasury committee on Tuesday, urging an independent investigation.

Alongside her husband and business partner, Alan, she issued a statement saying it was shameful that Woodford remained on the FCA’s register of authorised persons while its investigation “meanders on”.

She said: “A conclusion to its deliberations does not appear to be in sight. This is nothing short of an insult to the hundreds of thousands of small investors whose lives have been turned upside down, many of which have lost their life savings.”

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Steward said he recognised the time the regulator was taking could cause frustration among those who were affected, who are “understandably, looking for answers”.

He said: “They rightly look to us to provide those answers. As a result, it is vital we investigate thoroughly and investigations are not limited at their outset. Instead, we look at what all the evidence tells us before we make conclusions about what, if any, misconduct has taken place and who is responsible, if it has.

“It is only then that we can assess what, if any, sanction we should put in place. It is important as the decision makers on investigations that we do not prejudge their conclusion.”