THE £7.2 million fine imposed on Aberdeen Asset Management for breaching rules on client money is small beer against the company’s worth and the assets it holds. Its importance is in the message it sends to clients and the markets.
Aberdeen has cleaned up its act and grown considerably since the split-capital investment trust scandal in the early part of the last decade almost brought it down.
The wrong coding of client funds from Aberdeen’s own funds in the three years to August 2011 is not in the realms of misselling. It appears to fall more into the category of sloppiness rather than scandal.
But it confirms that the industry remains prone to improper behaviour and the penalty is a clear indication that the Financial Conduct Authority is on the case and not prepared to see any deviation from its strict rules on the separation of funds.
Aberdeen is not the first to fall foul of this rule. Three years ago JP Morgan Securities was fined a record £33.32m for a similar, though more serious, offence.
While Aberdeen was guilty of wrongly designating funds as its own instead of belonging to clients, JP Morgan lumped both together for almost seven years.
The rules, which were drawn up the FCA’s predecessor the Financial Services Authority, insist that firms keep customers’ funds in separate accounts to protect them in case the manager becomes insolvent.
In both instances no clients suffered losses. But we know that at least two staff at AAM have left the company. This is not a victimless offence.
Microsoft and Nokia hope to bite into Apple
A LOT has already been said about Nokia being left behind in the smartphone market but the reality is that tying up its mobile business with Microsoft must be its only hope of offering real competition to Apple, Samsung and the other global players dominating the sector.
Yesterday’s deal was described as a milestone in the mobile industry but once-dominant Nokia was more or less destined for life under Microsoft when the latter licensed its Windows Mobile to the Finnish company. It made Nokia entirely reliant on Microsoft’s software for its mobile strategy.
In Stephen Elop it also had a former Microsoft boss in charge, but even he has been unable to stem the erosion in Nokia’s value. It has, however, allowed the US company to snap up Nokia for a snip while learning more about it and deciding how they could work together.
The challenge facing the new combine is immense. However attractive its products, breaking the existing stranglehold in the smartphone market will be tough and it may not be possible without an innovator such as the late Apple boss Steve Jobs.
More than that, Microsoft and Nokia need to combine innovation with aspiration. Apple has succeeded by making its family of products must-have devices, with consumers eager to upgrade to the next model and fascinated by the roll-out of new ones such as the iPad.
Another front for Microsoft and Nokia will be emerging markets where Nokia has had some continued success, particularly in Africa.
This, however, is becoming a winner-takes-all sector and so many other brands have fallen by the wayside in an attempt to compete. For both Microsoft and Nokia it could be the last throw of a very expensive dice.