Worldspreads failure and subsequent administration, what the NFA could learn from the UK's FSA and FSCS..

As the scandal of PFG Best has exploded over the past 48 hours, and the ongoing crisis of the collapse

As the scandal of PFG Best has exploded over the past 48 hours, and the ongoing crisis of the collapse of MF Global shows little sign of reaching any conclusion, attention may once again turn to the management of the collapsed UK spread betting firm Worldspreads which crashed in acrimonious circumstances on around March 16th 2012.

Removing the vastly different sums involved, the pathology and mechanics of all three collapses have been similar; a rumour, which then turns to fact and with lightning speed the offices and operation are closed for business within hours, with clients left locked out of the process whilst waiting for titbits of information from those appointed as ‘money janitors’ to clean up the mess. However, there’s one distinct difference between how UK ‘officialdom’ has handled the collapse of Worldspreads versus their American equivalents and it can be described using two key words; transparency and efficiency.

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Moving aside the reasons why and how the Worldspreads firm collapsed and the argument that the sum involved was not as great as MF Global, the speed with which the UK authorities moved to shore up the majority of clients positions after its collapse is in stark contrast to the veil of secrecy and inactivity that has enveloped the management of the MF Global collapse. If the PFG Best crisis follows the same tortuous pattern then the distressed clients could be left in limbo for months, or longer. Comparing and contrasting the management of how the UK administrators KPMG have handled the Worldspreads collapse to that of the progression of MF Global is quite alarming.

Springing into action

The Worldspreads Group company was put into administration late on Sunday 18th March, two days after effectively ‘closing for business’ after a £13m “black hole” was found in the accounts during the preceding midweek, which put 15,000 clients (the majority of whom were retail customers) at risk of losing almost half their money.

Administrators KPMG said clients were owed circa £30 million, which should have been held in a segregated customer account. However, the group’s total cash came to just £16.6m. It transpired that WorldSpreads broke the ‘golden rule’ – client money should never be “commingled” with company money.

KPMG was hopeful at the time that clients would get close to all their money back. Clients had on average just £2,000 each on balance with the company, and this fell far short of the £50,000 automatic protection given under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

The FSCS

The FSCS, funded by the financial services industry, will be liable for any shortfall after recoveries made by the administrators. At its peak, the Dublin-based company, which listed on Aim in 2007, was worth about £40m. WorldSpreads had no outstanding commercial loans bar a relatively small working capital facility.

The diary of events after Worldspreads collapse

Notwithstanding the fact that through the former website, www.Worldspreads.com KPMG has maintained a constant narrative and dialogue with the clients, KPMG have also provided a link on their corporate site to kept clients up to date with developments. The latest notice on the Worldspread site states;

Update for clients of WorldSpreads Limited (in special administration) (“the Company)

The Joint Special Administrators of WorldSpreads Limited are now able to send closing statements to clients of the Company. Each client will receive TWO statements. All statements are being sent to the registered email address of users. Paper copies of statements will only be sent out where the registered email address is no longer in use, or cannot be delivered. If you have not received your final statements within 7 days (if you are a UK client) or within 21 days (if you are an overseas client), please provide details of your account and current contact details, including email address, to WorldSpreads-enquiries@kpmg.co.uk.

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Details about the FSCS process are on their website www.fscs.org.uk and will shortly include a further update relating to the claim process for WorldSpreads Limited. However, in order for the FSCS to begin their process your claim must be agreed with the Joint Special Administrators. Therefore you must confirm to the Joint Special Administrators as quickly as possible whether you agree or disagree with your statement balance. FSCS will only accept agreed balances from the Joint Special Administrators for use in determining client claims. There is no need to contact FSCS at this time as it will contact you separately regarding your claim.

In its latest publication, dated 22nd June 2012, the KPMG site states;

Jane Moriarty and Samantha Bewick of KPMG were appointed by the High Court as joint special administrators of Worldspreads Ltd, a UK based spread betting business, late on Sunday 18th March 2012. Worldspreads Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Worldspreads plc, a company incorporated in Dublin, Ireland. This website will provide the latest updates and information from the joint special administrators.

Update from FSCS

The Joint Special Administrators of WorldSpreads Limited have been working closely with the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) since the firm was placed into Special Administration. FSCS will start emailing personalised application forms for compensation by the end of June to WorldSpreads clients. In some instances, where balances are very small, FSCS will ask that clients request an application form to be sent to them to complete.

Before this happens, an introductory email with further details of FSCS, their role, and the process for claiming compensation from them will be sent to you at the email address held by WorldSpreads. Please check your email inbox, including spam filters, over the coming days.

Should you not have received an email (containing an application form) from FSCS by 6 July 2012 and wish to make a claim for compensation from FSCS, please contact FSCS on freephone 0800 678 1100 or 0207 741 4100 to request an application form. An application form can be dispatched by post if requested. In order for the FSCS to begin their process your balance must first be agreed with the Joint Special Administrators. FSCS will only accept agreed balances from the Joint Special Administrators for use in determining client claims. For further information, please refer to the FSCS website.

Speed and transparency

The speed with which the UK Worldspreads situation was attended was commendable, clients didn’t even have to contact the administrators directly, KPMG contacted each directly within days of being appointed administrators, advising of positions and the level of compensation likely to be achieved. Now some four months on progress is apparent, as it should be for the circa £900,000 fee KPMG is charging. Rumour has it that clients are weeks away from compensation, or at least weeks away from being offered part compensation. Quietly and efficiently the collapsed firm’s affairs have been handled as befits such a reputable firm with certain management protocol in place. As to how another top ten accountancy firm Ersnt and Young (Worldspreads’ auditors) failed to spot the glaring irregularities is a sorry story for a different day…

MF Global

The handling of the MF Global collapse couldn’t be more extreme in comparison. MF Global collapsed in October 2011, retail clients are still kept in the dark with regards to any compensation. Over nine months after the shock event the lack of news must be making certain clients desperate. The chapter 11 bankruptcy protection offers no protection or instruction to the small ‘retail’ clients who have perhaps lost savings, suffered a massive hit to their lifestyles, or seen their dreams of a safe and secure pension and retirement trashed. A visit to the MF Global website offers very little comfort to those who’ve lost funds.

There’s another sting to the tail which anyone outside of the industry of speculation as investment may have missed, these failures may become ultimately an indirect taxation on us all, we may all end up paying..

Estimates suggest that the UK FSCS may have to find circa £600 million from its contributory based compensation scheme to shore up the positions of UK losses for MF Global and others over coming years, this cost will ultimately be borne by the brokers and financial firms who will (as night follows day) at some stage have to increase costs in order to protect their positions. Similarly their own individual and collective insurance costs will inevitably escalate as each major failure is discovered. UK FTSE 250 firm’s costs have risen by 270pc under the FSCS compensation scheme, year on year, from 2009 to 2010.

Paul Holmes

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