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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Apology Demanded

Ann Abraham, the parliamentary ombudsman, in a long delayed report has called for Britain to apologise to more than a million policyholders in Equitable Life and offer them compensation.

The apology, not that it will ever come, will be a tad late as the Equitable Life scandal occurred in 2000.

Equitable Life almost collapsed in 2000, after being forced to honour unsustainable guarantees stretching back 30 years. It eventually closed to new business in one of Britain's most dramatic financial scandals.

Ms Abraham has been investigating the scandal for four years, and is quoted in The Guardian:

"(Those) responsible for undertaking financial regulation should act in a way that is compatible with the duties and powers which parliament has conferred on them.

Those responsible for the prudential regulation of Equitable Life failed to do so throughout the period covered in my report

Vanni Treves, who became chairman of Equitable Life in 2001, said that the regulators' failure to tackle problems at the society meant the government should compensate policyholders who suffered losses as a result.

"Year after year, the regulators failed to do anything about problems that were absolutely evident to them.

We have paid all the bills we felt we had a duty to pay. Now the government must pay the bills for its own failures

Abraham noted that the bodies overseeing the insurer were "passive, reactive and complacent", allowing one person to be both chief executive and appointed actuary for more than six years thereby neutralising the appointed actuary's "whistle-blower" role.

Abraham's report recommended a compensation scheme to redress losses, and called on the government to act swiftly, as tens of thousands of policyholders have already died since Equitable Life closed to new business.

The FT estimates that the cost of compensation will be around £4BN.

It is all very well calling for compensation. However, there are two issues that will ensure none is given:

1 The government is broke and cannot afford to pay any.

2 The regulatory regime that failed the policyholders was set up by Gordon Brown, to pay compensation would be an admission of failure. Brown does not do "failure" or "apologies".

Given the recent financial scandals, eg Northern Rock, it is evident that the regulatory regime in the UK has not improved one jot since the days of Equitable Life.

There are other scandals waiting to break.

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