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Woodford investigation to take until the end of the year

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has written to the Treasury Select Committee saying it is confident its investigation into the collapse of the Woodford Equity Income fund will completed by the end of 2021.

In a letter to Treasury Select Committee chairman Mel Stride, FCA chief executive Nikhil Rathi said the investigation had made “substantial progress”.

All key interviews, including 14 witness interviews, have now been completed by the FCA. The investigation team has also issued more than 30 information requirements which has led to the gathering of more than 20,000 items of relevant material from all the key parties.

The letter said that information gathering in relation to current lines of enquiries was “nearly complete”.

The next steps will involve further analysis of this information and engagement with experts, including individuals who are able to give expert evidence in any potential proceedings.

But the regulator said it was not appropriate to disclose the questions that it thinks may require answers from an expert or the areas of expertise that it may need to engage.

The FCA said that further analysis and legal advice may well give rise to additional lines of enquiry and some witnesses may need to be re-interviewed. Subject to that as well as an opinion from expert witnesses, the regulator said it was confident the investigation work would be completed by the end of this year.

The Woodford Equity Income fund was suspended in June 2019 following an increase in redemption requests which couldn’t be readily met. In October 2019, the fund’s administrator Link Fund Solutions confirmed the £3bn fund would be wound-up with cash returned to investors as soon as possible.

The fund managed about £10bn in assets at its peak. It is now in the process of being wound down and its assets are being sold off.

Moira O’Neill, head of personal finance at Interactive Investor, said: “Today’s update from the FCA is short on clarity for the investors who have already been left in at best limbo and at worst in financial misery, for two long years. However, it does suggest that there could be light at the end of the tunnel, at least as far as answers are concerned.

“However, those answers may be scant consolation for those who have lost their life savings. Some 14 witness interviews in (and some may raise an eyebrow it wasn’t more), 30 information requests and 20,000 items of relevant material, it could yet be an uncertain and unacceptably long road ahead. We can only hope that after all this, it isn’t just private investors who are left carrying the can.”

Ryan Hughes, head of active portfolios at AJ Bell, said: “The update today from the FCA to the Treasury Select Committee on the investigation into the Woodford debacle seems to show that the investigation is moving forwards, albeit maybe not quite at the pace that many would be hoping for.

“Clearly, this is a large and complex investigation that involves many different aspects and the FCA will want to ensure that every element of it is thoroughly investigated. As such, it seems likely that it will be some time before any report is complete and therefore it looks as if investors in the Woodford fund will still have many questions unanswered over two years after the fund initially suspended.

“For many, this is a process that is taking too long but at the same time, it’s vital that for credibility and confidence in the investment industry, that the investigation looks into every aspect so that we don’t have the same mistakes happening again.”

In spite of the many investors still trapped in the Equity Income fund, Woodford has announced plans to return to fund management, although regulators have raised questions about his return.

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