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Aviva Investors slapped with FCA fine over conflicts of interest

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Aviva Investors has been fined £17.6m (€24m) after failing to manage conflicts of interest within its fixed income team, after evidence of ‘cherry picking’ trades for more lucrative fee arrangements was discovered in 2013.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) charged the asset manager after the UK watchdog found it in breach of two of its Principles for Businesses.

Between 2005 and 2013, Aviva Investors, the investment arm of UK insurer Aviva, managed certain fixed income strategies side-by-side, resulting in funds that paid differing fee levels being managed by the same desk.

Because a proportion of the fees were paid to traders in the fixed income team, traders were incentivised to favour one fund over another – using internal processes to delay certain trades for several hours before allocating favourable price movements to one fund, and non-favourable to others.

Aviva Investors discovered two fixed income traders had been conducting the ‘cherry picking’ process in May 2013 and addressed eight impacted fixed income funds with £132m of compensation.

In additional to internal compensation for the affected funds, the regulator fined the asset manager £17.6m for failing to take “reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively”.

FCA acting director of enforcement and market oversight Georgina Philippou said Aviva Investors’ failings were serious, but the regulator recognised the “exceptional” reaction of the manager during the investigation.

Aviva Investors was offered a 30% discount on its fine by settling with the regulator in the first stage of investigation.

“This case serves as an important reminder to firms of the importance of managing conflicts of interest effectively by implementing a robust control environment with effective systems to manage the risks,” Philippou added.

Euan Munro, chief executive at Aviva Invetsors, said the issued within the manager had been fixed.

“We have improved our systems and controls, and ensured no customers have been disadvantaged and also made substantial changes to the management team,” he added.

The FCA said Aviva Invetsors had operated a ‘three lines of defence’ model of risk management, and that conflicts of interest would have been avoided had it operated effectively.

“Its failure to implement robust systems and controls in this area where there were clear conflicts of interest led to an unacceptable risk these weaknesses could be exploited for personal gain,” the FCA said.

The regulator did praise the manager, however, calling its response “exceptionally open and cooperative”, and said its compensation procedure to the eight affected funds was prompt.

The asset managed breached Principle 3 (management and control) and Principle 8 (conflicts of interest) of the FCA’s Principles for Businesses and related Rules.

Munro was announced as the asset manager’s new chief executive in July 2013 after a period of instability in the management structure. He started his new role in Janaury last year.

Parent firm Aviva has emphasised a need for improving revenue from the subsidiary with its 3% contribution, described as “inadequate” by chief executive Mark Wilson.

The asset manager’s prospects have been raised by Aviva’s proposed merger with fellow UK insurer Friends Life.

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