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FSA regulation is a funny old game

Soon after the late and not so great Robert Max-well met his briny fate, my son bought me a delightful board game that provided me with hours of schadenfreude.

Called Maxwell, it was much like Snakes and Ladders. There were dice and counters and when it came to your turn, you threw the dice and moved your counter the appropriate number of spaces.

The equivalent of ladders were squares that marked successful deals or those on which you collected a share dividend so you could advance six or 10 places. The winner was the first player to reach the Daily Mirror pension fund.

There were snakes too, including ‘Newspaper closes – return to Go’. But the piece de resistance was the ultimate snake, just before the pension fund. This was ‘Fall overboard and drown’.

I’m reminiscing in this way because following the publication of the Financial Services Authority’s internal report on the collapse of Northern Rock, I began to wonder if I could invent a game for the industry called Regulation, building on the Maxwell model.

I thought I could market it as a sort of corporate gift – a board game for the boardroom if you like – so I started planning. For the counters I envisaged brightly coloured plastic FSA men and the ladders were easy, as was the ultimate goal – ‘Save the Rock’. Clive, as I called the little chap in yellow, could land on ‘Fine a broker for mortgage mis-selling – advance three spaces’. For inventing the Treating Customers Fairly initiative, the reward would be advancing 10 places, and the pay-off for coming up with a new strategy following regulatory failure would be ‘Promotion – advance 20 spaces’.

Initially, the snakes were easy enough too. One was ‘Fail to keep record of risk meeting – go back five spaces’. Another was ‘Forget to issue risk mitigation programme – go back 10 spaces’.

But what about the ultimate snake? I first thought of ‘Fail to save the Rock’, but why? Nobody got the chop for not spotting the problems that led to the biggest run on a UK bank in 140 years. In fact the regulator seems likely to recruit even more bureaucrats to prop up its ailing enterprise.

So depending on who you think should be the fall guy, I was left with two choices. First was ‘Fail to save the Rock, write an internal report, recruit more staff, stick it out for a few more years and collect a gong in the new year Honours list’.

Second came ‘Fail to save the Rock, agree to leave the FSA by mutual consent, collect nearly £400,000 and a big pension pot, return to Go and start again’.

Then I gave up. In this game, I was the only loser.

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