Any UK reader who has gasped in horror while handing over (metaphorical) fistfuls of cash to their railway company will remember the outrage we all felt when, in April 2014, it was revealed that a “City financier” had been cheating on his fares for years. (In short, he boarded the train at a rural station with no ticket barriers, then disembarked in the City and “touched out” with his Oyster card, thus being docked the maximum fare of £7.20 – for a journey for which he should have paid £24.50. For five years. While earning about a million a year.) The full puffed-chest, hands-on-hips indignation can be sampled in this article from the Daily Bile. You will spot that throughout the article the fare-dodger is unnamed, as part of his deal with the railway company was his anonymity, and indeed at the end of the piece the journalist encourages anyone who knows the identity of the miscreant to contact the paper. But in August 2014, the fare-dodger was warned by the Financial Conduct Authority that they were taking an interest in him, and the cat was out of the bag: he was suspended from his job and eventually resigned.
Yesterday the FCA announced the outcome of its own investigations: Jonathan Burrows has been banned from working in the City again. As explained in the Final Notice from the FCA, at the time of his offences Burrows was an approved person, but now “the Authority considers that Mr Burrows is not fit and proper to conduct any function in relation to any regulated activity… because he lacks honesty and integrity [and so] he has failed to meet the FCA’s Fit and Proper Test for Approved Persons”. The FCA press release reveals that “Burrows also admitted in interview that he did not disclose his behaviour to his employer. Although the FCA is not penalising Burrows for not informing his employer the FCA has taken this into account, amongst other things, in deciding what action to take.”
In the words of my primary school teacher (and doubtless yours too), I find Burrows’s behaviour more disappointing than anything. We are all tempted, from time to time, to make a quick gain over “the system”. (When I was a skint student, I once cut an unfranked stamp from a letter I had received and stuck it on one I was sending – I was plagued with guilt for months over that one.) But those of us who work in finance are in such a position of trust – looking after other people’s money, for heaven’s sake – that we must be held to the highest standards. Poor old BlackRock had no idea that their MD was the fare-dodger in the press; he fessed up only when he realised that the FCA would be contacting his employer anyway. And in the intervening months, and indeed his five preceding fare-dodging years, just how fit and proper were his actions with client money? What a difficult situation for BlackRock. So should Burrows have been able to strike that anonymity deal in the first place? Or should his approved status have made it a criminal offence for him not to disclose crimes of dishonesty? (I think he settled out of court with the railway company, so in fact has no conviction – even trickier.)