icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Changing minds: can open data deter finance professionals from misleading customers?

About the corruption of and the systematic errors made by approved persons

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Changing minds: can open data deter finance professionals from misleading customers? About the corruption of and the systematic errors made by approved persons. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 4.10 (October).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Changing minds: can open data deter finance professionals from misleading customers? About the corruption of and the systematic errors made by approved persons. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 4.10 (October).

London, 28 December 2015 - The amount of data accessible through open sources is immense and yet to support whatever decision making process with information available in the public domain you need time, energy, skills and money. The alternative is, inevitably, to trust people around you and follow the advice you are given by social workers, legal advisers, experts, consultants in various fields and what the financial authorities call "approved persons".

According to the Financial Services Register (provided by the Bank of England's Prudential Regulation Authority at https://register.fca.org.uk/) Cater Allen has been operating through different companies since 1991 and, under the umbrella of two groups, Barclays and Santander. You have to search various general and specialistic sources, including newspapers articles and Wikipedia, to learn that the story of the bank goes back two hundred years and its management has been deeply intertwined with all the City and Country institutions since then .

When I decided to move my stakeholder pension money from the regulated italian Intesa Previdsystem scheme to a Cater Allen "equivalent" product in 2011-2012 I did not know that in recent years Cater Allen had closed down several call centers in the UK and abroad and concentrated in Sheffield and Bradford many operations of its telephone banking services, disappointing at the same time employees, expatriate clients and immigrants. I did not know that this former "independent”, 180 years old discount house, with an extensive network of relationships in the City, including those with the Treasury, the Bank of England, several stockbrokers and with Lloyd's of London, had been sold to Santander in 2004 and it was operating through Royal Bank of Scotland, selling stakeholder pension products and solutions to intermediaries and end-users but without being registered as a pension scheme provider with HMRC.

If I had access to such information, I could have considered the possibility that Cater Allen was not the safest solution for me to transfer my thirty years hard work pension savings managed, until then, by a regulated Italian self invested private pension scheme that was even recognised as a qualified foreign provider in the UK.

Who is who and the data trade off

In fact, the truth is that when I decided to move my stakeholder pension money from the italian Intesa Previdsystem scheme to a Cater Allen "equivalent" product in 2011-2012 I had no time to search and thoroughly assess anything. The situation of financial services was still pretty much jeopardised in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-2009, with several advisors and quite reputable firms disappearing or not being available to assist. But besides such unhelpful context, my personal circumstances were particularly critical: I had been made homeless, I was not receiving any benefit, it was impossible to care about myself and my dog, my furniture and belongings as I would have normally done and on top of all the distress and trauma caused by the missed conveyance, ended up with an eviction, I had no 4G internet connection. The very modest smartphone and computing capabilities I was rely on were better than nothing for essential communications but did not allow me to search extensively and access the numerous information sources I knew could provide excellent data.

Instead, I stuck with my original plan, still trusting that I could buy my flat from either Mrs Brennan or Freshwater (the freeholder who turned out not to be aware the flat had been let out and even offered on sale) as I had already done before three times in my life, using savings to access a mortgage. I asked the bank I was a customer of, Santander, to advice on the best way to sort out the problem of a pension scheme not accepted as a guarantee on the UK market since it was in EURO. According to the terms and conditions of the italian pension scheme, and to the italian law, I could convert my pension fund in cash or exchange for a mortgage only to buy a home. That would require me first of all to transfer it in an equivalent UK based regulated scheme from where it could then be made available as a guarantee. The solution I was pointed to was a EURO bank account for self invested private pensions provided by Cater Allen private bank, part of Santander.

Missing data and decision making processes

If I had my "normal" access to the internet and various business, news and company information databases, I would have easily discovered some disturbing news about Cater Allen: the information I did not have access to could have surely influenced and at least delayed, or completely halted, my decision to authorise the transfer of the pension.

First of all, I would have discovered that since 2001-2002 and intensively again from 2010 on, Cater Allen was aggressively publicising the offering of an account that would "allow to switch money between dollar, euro and sterling accounts free of charge". A bit of critical light would have immediately turned on reading about something offered free of charge in the world of currency exchanges.

Secondly, I would have learned of a scandal investigated since 2005: in 2009 a gang was sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court for bank fraud worthing over 1 million pound perpetrated between 2005 and 2006. The gang accessed Cater Allen bank accounts cracking customers personal codes after a former employee at Cater Allen in Sheffield, a certain Ansir Khan, had stolen customers' information ciphering their data with a rudimental coding system. A corrupt PC from Birmingham, Charles Fletcher, was also part of the gang sharing data with companies available to launder the money, namely RMI Ltd and York Synthetics. Khan was also found guilty to engage with career fraudsters in South London (in Croydon and Bromley) passing them Cater Allen documents.

All in all, knowing of an extensive net of relationships built by a Cater Allen corrupt employee in Sheffield, with nodes across the Country, and possibly also internationally, with accomplices in Scotland Yard and in the business sector, all specialised in the business of abusing of customers personal data, would have made me very suspicious about the appropriateness for myself, in such a difficult time, to choose the bank suggested plan. In sum I would have not trust the advice of Santander, their ultimate parent, straightway and I would have put more distance between myself and any provider of financial services.

I had already had my personal details abused in different contexts in 2009-2010 (all my italian ID were stolen in 2010), with no chance of remedies in spite of complaints with the ICO and vairous claims. I knew I had more probabilities to become a target. More information warnings about the bank and the risk of losing control of my pension pot would have helped me to draw a safer line between perceived opportunities and risks.

Thirdly, I would have also learned that in 2004 another embarrassing and arguably legitimate experiment had come to an end when Abbey National, Cater Allen owner since 1997, then bought by Santander in 2004, accepted a last minute settlement for a 30 million pound claim against the bank made from investors in Jersey over a get-rich-quick currency scheme, sold through a sort of sophisticated ponzi scheme network of vendors since 1992/1993 and involving hundreds of investors. This case, with absolutely no particular reason but a simple association to uncertainty matters, would have scared me enough because the freeholder of my promised apartment, Freshwater, had quite opaque offshore activities and links to Jersey. No matter the rational, when you are already suspicious enough about something wrong, whatever reminds you the wrong is inevitably... wrong.

And finally, less emotionally, I would have wished to investigate further the fact that after the launch of an execution-only, telephone account and share-dealing service in 2001 Cater Allen's communications about its interest rates had started to make customers, journalists and advisers raising an eyebrow because of its deceptive high figures and even more deceptive small prints.

Or, would I have trusted the diligence and professionalism of Santander and Cater Allen "approved persons" all the same?

Approved persons' portfolios can be open data too

"Approved persons" are defined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) according to principles and fitness to operate in controlled functions (executives, directors) that require sound mind and integrity, beside understanding and application of rules, law and codes of conduct.

In a nutshell, as the same FCA states, "an approved person must act with due Skill, Care and Diligence in carrying out his/her controlled function" (https://www.the-fca.org.uk/approved-persons). The principles and Code of Practice for Approved Persons are published at https://www.handbook.fca.org.uk/handbook/APER/. Besides a number of technicalities and distinctions, the ultimate scope of such rules is making sure that customers of financial services are not misled, deliberately or because of negligence.

After I was discharged from the bizarre bankruptcy order in 2014, I discovered that the appointed trustees paid fictitious debts, "automatic" charges (like Secretary of State fees) and fabricated invoices from third parties wiping out my stakeholder pension. A perfect extortive machine. They also presented completely inconsistent and false documents, acting according to a pattern of abuse, mockery and libel that reminds a sort of dilapidating and symbolic ritual.

Have the appointed trustees been served? I asked myself.

The administration of the bankruptcy was initially care of a certain Marina Bray, manager at Smith & Williamson's Winchester office and acting on behalf of one of the joint appointed trustees, Paul McConnell. The other joint appointed trustee, Finbarr O'Connell, was based in London.

We met at Smith & Williamson London office in June 2013. After that meeting, there was almost no question and no interaction at all for the entire year of the bankruptcy but for my detailed disclosure to Mr O'Connell and Ms Bray of all the particulars of the missed conveyance in South Hampstead, the bankruptcy was the appallingly unjust and disastrous conclusion of.

Any day by day expense related to work and financial matters was also documented with periodic and possibly pedantic updates by my side via post, phone, email. I made of my bankrupt year a year of daily exercises in the art of survival.

Since the first day of their appointment, Smith & Williamson had all the information I could possibly access and pass on about my self invested personal pension, confirming and further documenting what I had disclosed to the Insolvency Service: I had transferred it from an italian regulated scheme to an UK pension scheme provider, in order to access a mortgage in GBP to buy the same flat that the bankruptcy petitioner, a Ms Suzanne Brennan, was not legally entitled to sell. The terms and conditions of the italian scheme allowed me to do that. I had been assured by Santander first and then by their private bank Cater Allen soon after that I could use a EURO savings account explicitly provided by Cater Allen for self invested private pensions in an equivalent manner.

And so and so forth. For many months I have reviewed all the steps, the thoughts and the decisions made in such frantic moments, while I was running back and forth from accommodations in Hotels and Hostels to Civil Courts, from Libraries to Internet cafes.

I failed to make the appointed trustees understand my own consternation about the evidence of what seemed to me, now, a sophisticated scam. They seemed totally unable to understand my sense of incredulity and despair about my own decision to make a transfer of the money from my Italian pension fund into the product that Cater Allen sold me with the risible “common sense” justification that in order to be converted from EURO into GBP, the pension money should first go into a special EURO account for self invested private pensions. Nor Smith & Williamson seemed at all interested in considering I had been sold a self invested private pension by an organisation that was not a qualified pension scheme provider. When I realised the EURO account was not “linked” to a regulated scheme I was unable to sign up any further deal with a UK based regulated scheme, because in the meantime Mrs Brennan had filed a petition for bankruptcy, with very syncronised timing, and I was declared bankrupt so unable to sign any contract for financial services for one year. The chronology of facts did not help.

Smith & Williamson stated in writings in a couple of occasions that my Cater Allen account was not considered "linked" to a pension scheme and that was all they had to say. The provenience of the money from an italian regulated pension scheme provider was even considered suspiciously because the money came into Cater Allen bank account just few weeks before the bankruptcy order was gazetted, in error, as it was made in the High Court instead that in the Central London County Court so that it appeared as a case involving a major business insolvency case and not the disgraceful end of a libelled single individual who had attempted to buy a home.

Both Bray and McConnell left Smith & Williamson and the Winchester office was closed during the summer of 2014, after the bankruptcy discharge. Any residual activity related to my bankruptcy was transferred to their Bristol office where I was told I could liaise to a certain Luke Williams for any question.

But there was no answer: as soon as I asked to move my stakeholder pension money into the regulated UK pension scheme I was eventually able to sign up and should have been "linked" to the Cater Allen account following the discharge, Mr O'Connell wrote me they needed more time before deciding to bring the bankruptcy administration to a closure, because they had to investigate the fact that a property linked to myself and my bankruptcy case was showing up in the Land Registry (hence my rectification claim I wrote about in another occasion).

They confirmed that they had accessed my self invested private pension as per instructions of the Insolvency Service.

Also Mr Williams left Smith & Williamson office soon after the operation, confirming to me they were acting according to patterns that ensure disengagement and obfuscation of legal and moral responsibilities. Who do you want to blame if the approved persons retire, leave the office or die after the disputed facts and decisions had taken place?

Instead of providing explanations or justifications about their conduct, the remaining appointed trustee, Finbarr O'Connell, refused to put the administration of my risible bankruptcy to an end until after I applied and obtained a Court hearing to have my personal details rectified in various official registries and documents in which the bankruptcy was erroneously quoted. Such rectifications claims failed, as I wrote in Isn't it time to start the calculation game?, but at least provided enough evidence that the appointed trustees were playing a game out of this world and out of any possible decency.

Eventually, Smith & Williamson released a final account of the bankruptcy, closing at zero, that is the most ridiculously false piece of accounting documentation I have ever seen, offering a number of inventive ways to justify the fact that all my money s been simply wiped out (see the Receipts and Payments Account p. 1 of the Appendices of the final progress report dated 15 April 2015).

Conclusions

If these are approved persons, I thought, I should be a nobel prize.

But they did not act alone. On the contrary, the role of the Insolvency Service and above all the responsibility of Cater Allen private bank part of Santander in wiping out my stakeholder pension were pivotal.

And yet, the same Financial Services Register present the available information with a certain level of inevitable obfuscation. It shows you that the bank has had various lines of business, national and international, professional and consumer from 1991 on and you can infere these have been either functional to a complex corporate organisation or faked to cover up some wrongdoing. Two configurations are no longer authorized (oh, what a surprise) whereas one authorization to operate as they were a consumer brand (not just a service aimed at specialised intermediaries) has come up as totally legitimate - fancy coincidence - after my bankruptcy case.

These are the data you find in the FCA Register as of today, 28 December 2015:

  1. Firm reference number 148467 no longer authorised - Cater Allen International Limited NW1 3AN
    • regulated by the FSA between 01/12/2001 and 14/02/2011 
    • regulated by the Securities And Futures Authority between 03/05/1991 and 30/11/2001 
  2. Firm reference number 178737 authorised Cater Allen Limited NW1 3AN, previous names / trading with names Cater Allen Bank, Cater Allen Private Bank, Cater Allen Professional, Sheppards Moneybrokers, IVOP issued in 2014-2015
    • regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority  from 01/04/2013 
    • regulated by the Financial Services Authority  from 01/12/2001  to 31/03/2013  
    • regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority from 01/04/2013  
    • regulated by the Securities And Futures Authority from 01/01/1996 to 30/11/2001  
    • firm reference number 204886 NW1 6XL - Cater Allen Syndicate Management Ltd, regulated by the Financial Services Authority from 01/12/2001 to 03/10/2003 and by the The Society Of Lloyd'S between 7/05/1991 and 03/10/2003 
    • firm reference number 154210 - Abbey Stockbrokers Limited regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority from 1/4/2013 on and by the Financial Services Authority between 01/12/2001 and 31/3/2013, by the Securities and futures authority between 27/07/1992 and 30/11/2001.

Nothing would technically prevent the Financial authorities from acquiring, curating and publishing further contextual, commercial and historical data related to the portfolios of products and services the same Register refers to, including even complaints, litigations, settlements and compensation cases and changes of management. All these data, either on an individual search basis or as aggregated analytics, document the story of a regulated bank or a financial product or brand and the activities of all the approved persons that care for it.

In showing off their skills, care, diligence and above all their errors, approved persons could have a chance to lead the fight against frauds, pillories, disinformation and medieval rituals instead of becoming instruments of "cybercrime as a service".

Post scriptum: In 2016-2017, after the trauma of a second eviction with no fault on my side that caused me to stay almost homeless for eight months and further jeopardised the whole of my health, work and financial circumstances, I complained about the approved persons behaviours following all the procedures set up by the same Smith & Williamson, the Insolvency Service Complaints Gateway and the Insolvency Practitioners Association just to be told that in no case the behaviours of the appointed trustees would be subject to investigations nor any of their decisions overturned and eventually that was not possible to accept the complaint because they had left and were not anymore members of the Insolvency Practitioners Association.