A retired eye surgeon who lost £50,000 investing in high-risk bonds to pay for his wife’s care is calling for rule changes to crackdown on the unregulated investments.
Dr Saboor Mir, 87, from London invested £50,000 with MJS Capital in late 2017. The company was fronted by former Lib Dem trade minister Lord Razzall and offered high-interest bonds it said were safe. Funds raised were invested in trading positions.
MJS Capital went bust earlier this year after raising £30m from investors. It is unclear how much investors will recover from the bust firm, with administrator’s claiming last month that assets were overstated by £20m.
Dr Mir’s wife has since died but he now requires care himself. The botched investment means he is now paying for “piecemeal” care out of his pension. He told Yahoo Finance UK he wants the regulator to be given powers to step in and stop other people falling into the same position as him.
MJS Capital is the latest in a string of companies that offered so-called “mini-bonds” that have gone bust so far this year. As much as £1bn may have been lost through these investments, highlighting the scale of the issue.
‘We wanted to do everything to save her’
Prior to investing in MJS Capital, Dr Mir had never made a cash investment beyond property and some small derivatives investments. He started looking for bigger investments after his wife was diagnosed with MSA, a form of Parkinson’s disease.
“It was for the care,” he told Yahoo Finance UK. “It was very, very expensive.
“Because we loved her, we wanted to do everything to just save her.”
His son Zak works in the City of London and a broker Zak knew recommended MJS Capital. The fixed-term bond promised a return of 1% a month and was advertised as having a capital guarantee.
“Even though it was too good to be true, we didn’t care because that sum was guaranteed,” Zak told Yahoo Finance UK.
The fact that the broker who recommended the bond was regulated by the UK’s financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, also reassured them.
“My main point of view was that he was FCA registered,” Dr Mir, who formerly worked at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London, said. “If you come to me and I’m a registered doctor, I can write you a prescription and you can take the prescription anywhere and you can think that you’ll still be alive, you know?
“You know that in this country if somebody is registered a lot of check-ups are done. The cowboys are not registered.”
The MJS Capital “mini-bond” was an unregulated investment product but a loophole in the rules allowed the broker to sell the investment, even though it was not supplied or endorsed by the firm he was with. The broker did the deal through a separate firm.
Zak has contacted the FCA to try and close this loophole. He and his father also wants new rules requiring all investment products to be registered with the FCA, rather than simply registering brokers and firms.
“I’ve phoned up the FCA because obviously this should not be allowed to happen in future,” Zak Mir said.
The FCA declined to comment on the case.
Both Dr Mir and his son declined to name the broker who sold them the investment. Zak is still trying to reach the broker to seek redress. Dr Mir believes he was taken advantage of.
“Our faculties were half numbed due to the personal situation,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t make good decisions.”
‘Consider why they’re unregulated’
Dr Mir’s case highlights the problem of unregulated bonds being marketed and sold to the public.
Mini-bonds are high-interest, high-risk fixed-term debt products sold to the general public. They have exploded in popularity in recent years thanks to a combination of low interest rates, cheap internet marketing, and pension freedoms.
While these investments often offer an eye-catching rate of return, the companies behind them often run a high risk of going bust and leaving investors with nothing. An estimated £1bn has been lost from mini-bond firms going under so far this year, according to BondReview.co.uk, a blog that follows the space.
“Most mini-bonds are high-risk products which is why they are paying quite high rates of return,” Ian Cornwall, director of regulation at Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association (PIMFA), told Yahoo Finance UK. “Anybody dealing with an unregulated product offering high returns should carefully consider why they’re unregulated and if they’re high risk.”
Earlier this year, London Capital & Finance (LC&F) went under after raising more than £200m from investors in one of the biggest mini-bond blowups so far. The Treasury has set up an independent inquiry into the collapse and the FCA’s supervision of the firm. It is also reviewing whether rule changes are needed to allow the FCA to better police the sector.
The FCA has been criticised for failing to do enough to protect investors. FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey has warned that mini-bonds currently exist in a grey area that makes them difficult to police and said in a letter to the Treasury Select Committee earlier this year that the FCA may lack “powers ... adequate to prevent unacceptable levels of consumer harm in this area.”
Bailey told Yahoo Finance UK last month: “We strongly urge people not to buy such products, or at least take independent advice first.”
‘Now I’m alone’
Dr Mir’s wife died in July last year after her battle with MSA.
MJS Capital went into administration in March of this year. Dr Mir is not hopeful of recovering his money.
David Rubin & Partners, the administrator’s for MJS Capital, did not respond to Yahoo Finance UK’s request for comment.
He has a doctor’s pension to support him but now requires care himself.
“Now I’m 88 next birthday,” he said. “Mentally I’m alright but 88 is not a spring chicken either so I have care. They’re not very cheap either.
“The only thing was to have an improved flow of funds for better care. Now I’m alone and I need it and we’re doing it piecemeal.”
Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.