Crypto fans mauled by watchdog baring its teeth

Bitcoin traders
FCA: crypto fascists?

Saying no to things is the primary task of any decent regulator. But the Financial Conduct Authority took it to a new art form this week when it in effect said “no, no way, absolutely no chance, forget it” to the nation’s cryptocurrency fans. The watchdog had started a consultation process on cryptocurrency derivatives back in July 2019, seeking views on whether it should allow retail punters to trade financial products pinned to the price of bitcoin and the like. The response was lively, and emphatic. Some 97 per cent of 527 respondents called for it to be permitted. How could the FCA say no to such an overwhelming outpouring of public opinion? 

Pretty easily, it turns out. This week the regulator banned the sale of contracts for difference, options and exchange-traded notes pegged to crypto. “Retail customers can’t reliably assess the value and risks” involved, it said. The underlying assets — bitcoin, dogecoins, etc — have “no reliable basis for valuation”, it added. And retail customers have no “legitimate investment need” to dabble in them. For crypto fans, this is somewhere between a nanny state and outright fascism. Who are the pen pushers at the FCA to withdraw a Brit’s god-given right to lose money on made-up numbers?

They have one serious point: surely, gold is also worth only what the last person paid for it? Who is to say what any asset’s intrinsic value really is? Clearly, though, the FCA has little time for pseudo-philosophical crypto gotchas. The ban starts in January.

John Neal
Snoopy’s still a draw

Difficult as it is to believe, Lloyd’s of London chief John Neal didn’t always want to be the head of a multibillion-dollar insurance market. “I wish I’d invented Snoopy,” he told a webcast organised by insurance broker Aon this week. “My great ambition as a kid was to see if I could spend the rest of my life drawing Snoopy.”

As things turned out, he’s spent most of his life drawing up insurance contracts rather than loveable beagles. But it’s never too late to change. For three decades, Snoopy was the mascot for MetLife, the big US life insurance company, featuring in its TV adverts and on the side of an airship. However, they ditched the pooch in a rebranding a few years ago, so there is scope for Lloyd’s of London to give the dog a new home. “I can still draw him today but sadly it has no practical value in the day job,” Mr Neal told his webcast audience. Maybe he should start putting those skills to good use.

Simon Beresford-Wylie
Straight-talking techie

Chinese techies seeking influence in the west have probably had their fill of forthright orators, such as US President Donald Trump and, er, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden. While the former has piled heated criticisms — and sanctions — on Chinese telecoms group Huawei, the latter recently poured cold water on board members linked to a Chinese fund taking control of chipmaker Imagination Technologies. But if the Chinese were hoping for another go at Imagination before it heads towards an IPO, they will have new chief executive Simon Beresford-Wylie to win over. He joins after a stellar career at broadcast infrastructure group Arqiva and electronics group Samsung. City Insider’s industry contact suggests his approach will be, um, direct. “Simon was born in Yorkshire and grew up in a council house before moving to famously ‘tell it as it is’ Australia . . . Imagination might be betting on Simon’s famously straight-talking stance.” Expect discussions — with anyone — to be somewhat frank.