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THG boss on WANDdisco and “laughable” City regulation

moulding

Matthew Moulding, the boss of THG, has written about his own “bitter experience” of running a company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

It comes after another week of highs and lows at his North West group, with its share price falling from 115.53p to 81.9p in a matter of hours, before recovering again after more rumours circulate of takeovers.

The London Stock Exchange is currently undergoing a series of reforms, following Lord Hill’s Listing Review, in the hope of attracting more companies to list in the UK, rather than overseas. That was further underlined by tech firm, Arm’s recent decision to list on the Nasdaq; and also Flutter, the owner of SkyBet, pursuing a secondary listing in New York.

Moulding said:

“[…] the City is reforming itself to attract more Founders and Boards to list their companies in London, instead of overseas. I was asked to contribute to the study undertaken by Lord Hill and welcome the changes.

“That said, these changes alone will do little for the LSE. Every company listing in London needs full approval on all aspects of the business, including Governance and Related Parties. From THG’s own bitter experience, even though you receive these approvals, anyone not adopting the 1930s-style LSE practices of old is fed to the meat grinder. Hedge Funds, with the help of friendly Pundits and Analysts, argue any deviations as bad practice, wrongdoing, or an evil force.

“It’s laughable. Where were all the Hedge Funds, Analysts and Pundits ahead of Tesco’s £250m accounting scandal a few years ago? Or when BT recently had a similar issue in its Italian subsidiary? How did these LSE governance structures prevent the 2008 banking scandals, PPI or Libor rigging? And WANdisco a few weeks ago – really?  

“There are barely 200 companies on the LSE with at least £1bn market cap, and none of the “highly skilled” City professionals noticed the alleged massive fraud in WANdisco, as one of London’s 200 most valuable. It’s not like it’s a complex business – after a decade on the LSE it had c£10m in revenues, and then suddenly announced revenues didn’t exist after all.

“And so, the idea that the standards on the LSE are above other markets is ridiculous. Amazon, Meta, Apple, Google – have they really had more scandals than our old economy companies that dominate the LSE? Not even close, and yet each one is many times bigger than the whole of the LSE combined!”

Moulding continued:

“But hope is not lost. Yesterday the FCA announced it’s reforming itself and pledged to do better in tackling bad actors in the City. There were well over 2,000 allegations of foul play lodged with the FCA last year, with the FCA’s own survey finding the vast majority “extremely dissatisfied” with a lack of action or engagement from the FCA. Instead, whistleblowers now often turn to the US regulator as a means of bringing an action in London.

“Many doubt real change can happen while the FCA continues to be closely supported by an advisory panel made up of the very people it is policing in the City. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

Yesterday, the Financial Conduct Authority outlined how it would improve the confidence of whistleblowers, including sharing how it’s acted on their information.

“We need the intelligence whistleblowers provide to identify and act on problems in the firms we regulate,” said Therese Chambers, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight.

“We want to make sure we’re capturing and using the information provided by whistleblowers as effectively as possible, and to give them as much information as the law allows on how we have acted on their concerns.”

Returning to Moulding, he concluded:

“And so maybe the key lesson we should take from the US isn’t more rule changes, but giving our regulator the resources to tackle the well-known bad actors using the LSE as their private piggy bank. Doubling both staff pay and the team at the FCA would be the best investment we could make in London.

“A regulator that protects Founders, Boards and Investors alike, instead of shielding Investment Bankers, Hedge Funds and Pundits, is what it takes to make the LSE attractive once again.

“Hey, but what do I know – other than being a customer of the LSE and the target market for city reforms.”

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