Profile: Financial trumpet-blower - Vernon Everitt, director of people and communications, FSA

Vernon Everitt, the top PR man at regulator the Financial Services Authority, is a career civil servant. Having left school at 16, he joined the Bank of England in 1980 'when all the banks were hiring people with O and A-levels to work in computers'. Even Everitt's move from the bank in 1998, after the newly formed FSA took over supervision, was akin to staying put.

'In a sense, in 25 years I haven't changed employer but I have changed jobs,' Everitt says.

As the FSA's head of internal comms from 1998 to 2000, Everitt oversaw the 'ten-way merger' through which the UK's financial services super-regulator was born. The FSA's remit includes policing the complicated multi-million-pound deals executed by London's financial institutions and making sure that pensions and mortgage providers give the man on the street a fair deal.

The watchdog is also a source for confidential advice - and some say it should become an industry champion. Its challenge is to understand the businesses it regulates, as well as their power and behaviour.

Everitt, a bespectacled 41-year-old Eastender with a shock of red hair, has to steer a course through these demands in an industry where what you should and should not say is heavily prescribed. No surprise then that he is warded throughout our interview by head of media Rob McIvor.

Everitt talks in an even manner and circumvents even the most innocuous of questions. Moving from the closed world of banking supervision at the Bank of England to its press office, and later to the FSA, was not at all jarring, he claims. In 2003 he moved from HR to take over a 100-strong 'people and communications' division.

Near the end of our largely unrevealing but nevertheless genial conversation, Everitt gently hints at his frustration in trying to blow what is necessarily a very muted FSA trumpet. 'A constant battle for any regulator is the fact that most of our successes go unnoticed,' he says. 'I just make the point that much of what we do happens behind the scenes. We try and be as transparent as we can within those constraints. But we simply cannot comment on investigations when they are under way. If any of my press officers did that they would be breaking the law.'

National Association of Pension Funds director of comms Andy Fleming, who was Everitt's consumer education press officer from 2000 to 2001, attests to Everitt's ability to 'stay on top of a wide-ranging remit' and get involved in the kind of day-to-day work that would usually be delegated to juniors. 'He is very supportive of his staff, which in my experience is quite unusual in PR,' Fleming says.

The FSA's last attempt to promote its successes backfired spectacularly in January. Legal & General had challenged a £1.1m fine imposed by the FSA for endowment misselling. The subsequent Financial Services and Markets Tribunal broadly backed the regulator but criticised its decisions committee for errors in assessing the evidence against L&G.

The FSA's press release celebrating the tribunal's decision omitted the criticism, triggering negative media coverage and a broadside in the press from ex-FSA legal adviser Michael Blair. 'Some in the market perceived our response as defensive,' says Everitt. 'We could have announced the review of the enforcement process earlier.'

Everitt's contrite response is refreshing. Although more robust in his rejection of media suggestions that chairman Callum McCarthy and CEO John Tiner are not accessible enough, he believes the FSA gets 'a fair hearing'.

'Many journalists have a deep understanding of the FSA, what we are trying to do and how we go about it. They may not agree with us on the handling of every issue but fundamentally there is an understanding, even though there will be diverging views as to how we go about things,' he says.

The FSA's balancing act continues. As its serene communications juggler, Everitt must be careful not to slip up.


1996: EMU project manager, banking supervision, Bank of England

1998: Head of internal communications, FSA

2000: Head of media relations, FSA

2002: Director of human resources, FSA

2003: Director of people and communications, FSA

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