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Andy Agathangelou, Transparency Task Force: From whistleblowing to saving a life

Andy Agathangelou, Transparency Task Force: From whistleblowing to saving a life
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning
Posted:
21/05/2024
Updated:
21/05/2024

Self-portrayed as 'Mr Angry' while working in finance during the 80s heyday, Andy Agathangelou channelled his frustration to launch the Transparency Task Force in 2015. His aim is to fight for justice and give support to victims of financial crime.

As part of its biggest ever march, Transparency Task Force campaigners and supporters took to the streets of central London at the end of April to send out a clear message that ‘enough is enough’.

Families, business owners, and even ex-Premier League footballers Andrew Cole and Brian Deane walked side by side, united by their shared experience of falling victim to fraud.

Supporters of the ‘Justice for Victims of Financial Misconduct’ campaign, MPs Peter Grant and Bob Blackman CBE later joined them in Westminster.

In the committee room, they heard stories from members of the campaign community who recalled their harrowing tales of being targeted by scammers and criminals.

As well as thousands of pounds being lost to criminals, for others, their homes were repossessed. But for one victim, the mental strain of the circumstance saw them take their own life.

As part of his all-encompassing role as founder of the Transparency Task Force, Andy Agathangelou says he managed to persuade one of his members to end a hunger strike at the beginning of the year who “had every intention of killing himself”.

Indeed, during the protest that began at the Royal Courts of Justice and finished outside Parliament in Westminster, a moment of silence was held around a coffin that symbolised the members who had passed away before justice was served.

Just last year, more than 374,000 cases of fraud were reported to the Cifas National Fraud Database alone. That equates to an incident of fraud being reported every two minutes.

The task force comprises operational staff, volunteers, and experienced ‘financial minds’ to address all crimes brought to it by justice-seeking victims.

The size of the job at hand is not lost on Agathangelou, and he told YourMoney.com that the situation is “David versus Goliath. But it’s an unfair battle.”

He said: “You’ve got no weapons, you’ve got no money, you’ve got no power. All we’ve got is our passion and our desire to try to change things, our ideas, our experience and our knowledge.

“So it’s like we’re taking a knife to a gunfight.”

Losing his job amid whistleblowing claims

That battle began back on 18 August 1986, when Agathangelou started as a former financial adviser at a time he says “was all about sales, it was all about maximising the whole ‘greed is good’ era.”

He recalled working for firms whose reputation and actions he called into question, adding that “personally I have never, ever, ever knowingly done anything wrong”.

“There were times in my career when I observed things happening to the companies. I was working for what I knew was wrong. And this happened on three occasions. And on all three occasions, when I reported the wrongdoing for firms I was working for, I ended up losing my job.”

He added: “It was basically whistleblowing before the term ‘whistleblowing’ was really being used. And that made me really angry and very, very upset.”

One practice that pricked up the then-junior financial adviser’s ears was “the encouragement to sell all the features and benefits of the idea without properly pointing out the risks and the potential downsides.”

System failure vs ‘bad apples’

Those experiences sparked a fire for his future purpose in life.

“I left in disgust at the company’s attitude for fixing the problems I’d identified. That made me kind of ‘Mr Angry’ and very bitter and twisted about the whole thing.

“And I concluded that the people I was working for were rotten – and they were. But then, over a period of time, I started to grow up a bit. And I started to see what happened more in terms of system failure, rather than individuals being bad.”

To kick things off in 2015, he rounded up a few speakers “to talk about virtuous things and integrity-based things and the need for transparency and all that stuff, and trustworthiness.”

The campaigner recalled people who came up to him afterwards and asked how they could contribute to the cause.

“And then I ended up building this community of people who have grown and grown to where it is today”, he says.

People seek the help of the Transparency Task Force after they’ve had their complaints investigated by dispute services, including the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and Legal Ombudsman, as well as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The crusade against what he feels are failing systems is a major part of Agathangelou’s role at the task force.

He has previously criticised organisations including the regulator, the FCA, the FOS and Action Fraud – part of the City of London Police. He feels the same now.

Agathangelou said: “We need to remove the FCA immunity from civil liability. When the FCA was being formed, it was given immunity from liability.

“So you can understand, when it was designed, and given this immunity, it basically makes it bulletproof from the industry.

“However, when that legislation happened, they didn’t just make it immune from liability from the industry. They also made it immune from liability from ordinary people, which includes people who suffer as a direct consequence of catastrophic regulation failure, people like the Woodford victims.”

He also cited the ongoing scandal among a handful of building societies, where customers lost their life savings when Philips Trust Corporation went under.

Earlier this month, the BBC reported that some of those people affected believe the Newcastle, Leeds and Nottingham mutuals are at fault for the money being left with the trust fund.

Almost £140m is to be paid back to the 2,300 elderly customers whose life savings were put in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, The Yorkshire Post reported that Nick Anderson “warned the FCA about what he alleged was ‘effectively a Ponzi scheme’” back in 2020. The trust collapsed into administration in 2022, admitting it had mis-handled client monies (although there has been no determination on the ‘Ponzi scheme’ allegation).

Agathangelou adds: “The FCA was told about it four years ago by a whistleblower, but they didn’t take any action. And if the FCA didn’t have immunity from civil liability, the victims of the scandal could safely say, ‘Oh, you stuffed up here, you got this wrong. We’re going to take you to court and get compensation from you.’” The FCA has said it has considered all information received about Philips Trust “and will continue to do so”.

The Philips Trust scandal joins other high-profile cases in which the group has supported victims. Others include customers who had Blackmore bonds and victims of the Safe Hands funeral collapse.

‘Making a real change’

With such overarching crimes, products and businesses involved, how does the group focus its attention on the right target and implement the justice it desires?

“I don’t want TTF to be just a talking shop that people moan and groan about, I want it to do things and make a real change”, Agathangelou says.

And it’s his role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on investment fraud and fairer financial services, which enables him to drive change quicker.

The APPG has support from experienced politicians including Peter Grant, Scottish National Party MP, and Bob Blackman CBE, Conservative Party elected candidate.

Agathangelou regards the three things you need to make a fire – heat, fuel and oxygen – as the same as those with which you need to make change happen.

“Number one, you need a really good argument, a really good case and a really good bit of logic as to why these things should be changed. The second magic ingredient is you must have a supportive plan for it. Without the politicians being onside it won’t happen. And the third magic ingredient is media professionals to be able to talk about it and write about it,” he says.

One of the major changes is a fresh regulator to oversee financial activity, and he offers a UK take on the American Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which will “just look after consumers’ interests.”

Agathangelou believes a conversation about reform could become an idea discussed in Parliament ahead of the next general election [after this year’s].

“In the next Government cycle, and introducing the one after that, that would be an absolutely massive achievement.”

He continues: “So maybe within the next 10 years, we could actually have these changes happen. There is so much pushback, there’s so much against it, not because the ideas aren’t good by any objective measure, but because the regulator is very, very powerful.”