Transcript: Agnes Foy and Jean Hurley podcast

We spoke to lawyer Agnes Foy about upcoming elections, AI regulation, and why NDAs are often unenforceable.

This is a transcript of the podcast episode Agnes Foy and Jean Hurley on NFM, 2024 elections, and City culture between lawyer Agnes Foy, GRIP commissioning editor Jean Hurley, and GRIP senior reporter Carmen Cracknell.


Carmen Cracknell: Hello listeners and welcome back to the GRIP podcast.

Today we’re joined in the studio by Agnes Foy, who we spoke to around a month ago. She’s a lawyer who now works in the startup world and she’s joining us in a panel discussion with GRIP’s own commissioning editor, Jean Hurley. We’ll discuss sexism in the city, the FCA, AI, crypto, and more.

Agnes, for anyone who doesn’t know about you already, can you just talk a bit about your background and experience?

Agnes Foy: Sure. Firstly, thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here. And I’m most especially delighted to be here with Jean, who is just so clever and so astute and so wonderful. Me? I’m not clever, astute or wonderful, but I’m here. I practiced at the bar, commercial litigation, financial regulatory stuff. I worked in the city for years, mostly on trading floors. And I’m no spring chicken, so I am old enough and wise enough to be able to give a perspective on City and enterprise stuff that people younger, often, who are still working in big organizations, they’re too frightened to say. So I’ll say it.

Carmen Cracknell: Well, it’s going to be great to hear some frank points from you. Jean, could you introduce yourself, please?

Jean Hurley: Sure. So I originally trained as a solicitor, and I’ve also worked in legal publishing. But for the past 20 years, I’ve been focusing on compliance issues and regulatory developments in the UK. For Global Relay Intelligence and Practice, I do the commissioning for GRIP, which is our news service, and also write content and develop some content as well. And hopefully, all this is to help the role of the compliance officer run more efficiently. And I’m really looking forward to chatting with Agnes, who have known for over 10 years and working with Carmen. It should be fun.

Carmen Cracknell: So we’ve got quite a few topics here. I’ll start with the House of Commons Treasury Committee’s Sexism in the City report released in March.

That said, misogyny, bullying, sexual harassment, including rape and the widespread use of NDAs to silence victims and protect perpetrators was still a huge problem in 2024. Jean, can you just talk firstly a bit about how we define non-financial misconduct or NFM?

Jean Hurley: Well, I think it’s, you know, it’s what you said it is, it’s bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination. And I think it’s important is it’s whether it happens inside or outside the workplace. And that’s something that was highlighted in the report. And something else that’s, you know, been of interest, we had Jamie Bell who’s the head of secondary market oversight, the FCA, at an event at Global Relay. And he said that, you know, when you have financial misconduct, which we’re talking about market abuse, you usually find there’s an element of non-financial misconduct. And that’s why they’ve been very clear on the, you know, you’ve got to look at your comms.

And one of the things that, I’m going to quote him actually, because I think it’s quite important. He says that there’s often strong correlations between market abuse failure and other kinds of compliance failure and also non-financial misconduct. So, usually, I think it’s something you’ve written about as well, Agnes. You know, when someone’s a bad egg, if you’re going to, you know, have market misconduct, insider dealing manipulation, then usually there’ll be something else that will go into bullying or sexual harassment. Have you found that?

Agnes Foy: Absolutely. I was thinking about two cases that occurred in the same institution around the same time. One never made the press, the other did. And the other was an employment tribunal case about a woman who, on a trading floor, was harassed in all sorts of ways. But one of the issues that made the newspapers was that people were leaving men, our colleagues were leaving a witch’s hat on her desk. And I was doing some different work with that institution at the time. But nobody thought there was something wrong about the witch’s hat. Like, what’s the big deal? Does she have no sense of humour? But her case wasn’t just about the witch’s hat. It was… she was getting paid 30% less.

Jean Hurley: Yeah, and that was just an example of how they saw her as someone less than them that they could…

Carmen Cracknell: Bullying. And is that not covered by these rules?

Agnes Foy: Well, it should be. But, saying that, as all of this launched, I got more curious and probably not for public consumption, but there’s quite amazing occurrences of rituals of, “Are you in the in-crowd or out-crowd?” happen in banks. Quite alarming ones if you have a prudish nature, but these are normal and…

Jean Hurley: And these affect men as well, aren’t they? Because they don’t want to be involved in… Yeah.

Agnes Foy: They are men.

Jean Hurley: Being forced into uncomfortable…

Agnes Foy: Well, I’ll go ahead and say it. Like, you take your trousers down and get somebody to light a long match and put it in… And then people are betting on two guys who’s going to… I mean, you could argue, “You need to be a moron to be at this.” And…

Carmen Cracknell: Yeah, it sounds like the university rugby clubs and fresher’s initiation ceremonies, where they drink and puke into a bucket and things like that.

Agnes Foy: Yeah, but these guys are in their 50s.

Jean Hurley: This was in the report, and the report notes the continuation of Old Boy’s Club attitudes and this fuels bias against men who want to do right and also against women and perpetuates barriers. And I think it’s something that you said before, and this includes initiatives such as mentoring and training, where they seek to make women and men as well to follow the same lines that have always been, to continue in that same mould, rather than refresh and start from the beginning.

Agnes Foy: Well, I was thinking two things on this front. The first one is, Ernest Hemingway wrote a book called Men Without Women in 1927. Haruki Murakami wrote another book, I think in about 2006, called, surprise, surprise, Men Without Women. So if men have any interest in the issue of how masculinity evolves or doesn’t, and how it affects their own lives, I recommend they read both of those books and have a think, because… and have a think themselves, because at the moment, in a lot of cases, for older men who are in positions of power, there’s nobody home. There is nobody home. They will go along with it and engage in platitudes about remedies for bad behaviour, but they don’t care.

It’s like the President’s Club and the FT. It’s like they’re just being victimised. And so for me, as I wondered, the most beleaguered of all are young men, because it is a myth that older men, especially their bosses and superiors, are nice to them. There’s a rigid totem pole going on, and for lifelong duration, the reality is that most men, all men fear other men. And when they’re not busy fearing other men, they’re craving the approval of other men.

So if you were going to look at this from a more original way, and if you were a male, you should be questioning those things that desperate need for approval. And why? Because most men that I come across… there’s some wonderful men I’ve worked with and know personally, but most men at a professional level, there’s nobody home. It’s not happening. They’re not, you know, a misogynist. Patriarchy, no, nothing to do with them. They’re just… There’s no getting through, and everything is a platitude.

Jean Hurley: What was highlighted in the report as well is that there are calls for individual men to call out what’s happening and report it, whether it’s about sexual harassment of women or bullying younger men. But that’s quite a brave thing to do. I think to…

Agnes Foy: But you don’t even recognise it. They think it’s normal. So how are they going to call it out? And even if they think it’s a bit off, where are they going to get the courage from? You know, look at the breakdown of whistleblowers. They’re more females than males.

Carmen Cracknell: We were going to talk about whistleblowing, yeah. Can you talk a bit more about that?

Agnes Foy: Well, it’s just how normalised things are. I mean, back in the 90s, there was big issues about the old boys’ club. So how can we have them devolved?

Jean Hurley: Well, interestingly, we were talking about this before. I mean, just last week, there was a report in the FT about the Bucks Club in Bond Street saying that they’re looking at allowing membership of Crispin Odey. So perhaps not a lot has changed. And apparently they have nieces nights, so…

Agnes Foy: But it isn’t going to change. Because I don’t think men look hard enough at the lives of other men and look hard at where they end up. You know, you can be today the CEO of some large financial institution and have clung on for dear life for 20 years. You can overlook your cocaine habit. You can overlook your prostitution habit. And you can say you’re a very important person in a very large institution. But all of them discovered that as soon as they’ve left, it wasn’t them that anybody was even vaguely interested in. It was their office, their role.

So all of the things that that job costs them in terms of relationships, there is nobody at the end of it to pick them up and say, “Actually, you’re a lovely man.” Because they’ve reached a point, they’re so institutionalised and so they’ve nothing to give. This is why 80% of divorces in the over 50s were initiated by women. The men have nothing to give. So some mechanism that makes men, instead of huddling in a corner like frightened sardines, look at themselves harder and look at the unwritten rules that they go along with and don’t question. That’s what will bring about a change.

And for all of this, it’s quite simple. For as long as women care, men do not have to care. So for any of the like, oh, do you know, there’s a diversity officer and there’s male tittering going on. I’ve just looked at her and her knitting. You know, they don’t take it seriously. It is a platitude and life goes on because they’re not looking at what they should be looking at. Spot the 70-year-old male all alone having mad fantasies with other lunatics sitting outside bars like dirty old men saying I could buy her. And why would they say that? Why would they say that? Because they’ve spent their whole lives buying men.

Jean Hurley: Yeah, it’s the privilege. So in the report, that’s what it highlighted, that firm boards and senior leaders must take responsibility for tackling these issues. So it does have to come from the top. Whereas as you’ve highlighted, you know, the issues are that who is in charge at the moment. Looking at, you’ve got to train an unconscious bias and you’ve got to offer equalised maternity and paternity leave packages. And also hybrid flexible and remote working patterns and assessing reporting gender pay gaps, even for smaller firms. So the report is looking how, you know, we can get these gender pay gaps smaller.

Agnes Foy: I suggested to a partner male in a law firm, city law firm, I suggested there he was, 38. He’s a partner. He’s not an associate in mad grovel mode. I suggested to him that one of the things he should put on the agenda, saying as he hoped to have a family and was recently married, was paternity leave. His Adam’s apple, he used to like me. He used to find me engaging. His Adam’s apple starts to bob. And terror breaks out. So what’s the problem there? Who’s he afraid of? Other men. The fat boys.

Carmen Cracknell: It’s interesting your focus on the effects of this old boys network on other men, because the focus in the media is obviously so much on the harm done to women. These clubs, these all male clubs, I guess some of these men might say, oh, we still need and want male only spaces. But should they be got rid of or reformed? And how can they be?

Agnes Foy: Have you ever been to any of these clubs?

Carmen Cracknell: Absolutely not. And I don’t think I’ll be going any time soon.

Agnes Foy: I have! Like I went to boarding school. I’m not longing for bloody bread pudding. You know, I’ve grown up. But the big issue about those clubs and the kind of people who want to be part of those clubs is just their emotional immaturity. They never grow up.

Carmen Cracknell: Do you think that says more about like the public school system and boarding school and that whole culture, because that sounds a lot like that to me.

Agnes Foy: But I mean, there’s lots of books on this now. I mean, the one that really engaged me was a book called Wounded Leader by a guy called Nick Duffell. And this book was really interesting because it pegged it against the behavior in the House of Commons and issues at the time. I think he took a couple of years writing it.

But I’ll send you a review, if you like. The Huffington Post took it up and said, this is exactly, you know, describing the behavior also- these are the lunatics who take people to war. This is the basic details all over again. So Nick Duffell, I learnt a lot from this. I mean, I went to boarding school for six years. So horrifyingly, I saw some of myself in it. So what boarding school teaches you is to classify. Then you measure. Then you compartmentalize. That’s really good, really highly honed in boarding school. And then it’s just a hop, skip and jump to dehumanizing. So it is really easy to dehumanize if you are a boarding school product. But the great thing about the Savile or the Garrick or people who never went into the public school system, who are in total awe of like something important might be happening in there.

Off they go. And they’re so excited to tell you and invite you like they’re buying into it. There’s some kind of mad, I don’t know, snobbery about like to think people are really would be really impressed by this or the. But it is really emotional. It’s a deep rooted insecurity at the heart of it.

Some judge. There were two barristers and they had divorce very unpleasantly. And there was adultery on behalf of the male barrister. But at one point in the proceedings for reducing the maintenance payments for the children, the judge said it was argued by the mother of the children, you know, need this. They are entitled to the kind of education you had. And the judge, it was pointed out that the cost was the amount of money that he was spending on his membership of his three clubs. And the judge, they get totally to get crushes on one another.

Man, have you ever noticed that? They get really mad crushes on one another. And anyway, the judge had a mad crush on Bozo. And he says that a man of his stature obviously would need to be a member of three clubs. And so, no, tough luck, kids. He needs daddy needs to be in three clubs, which I won’t name. But that’s true. You know, I’m not making this up. That wasn’t in the papers.

This is going on all of the time. They have crushes on one another. I know it because I practice at the Bar. I know it on trading floors. I’ve worked in all of the male places. They get mad crushes on one another and crave approval. And I’m probably blowing up my own career now.

Jean Hurley: So recently, last month, the FCA released the whistleblower stats for 2023. And one of the two allegations that topped the list were compliance and conduct, which comes under fitness and propriety. And one of our thought leaders here was saying, you know, that just corroborates the sexism in the city. And they were panned a lot, the FCA, for saying that people aren’t using the hotlines. And they looked at the report and it looks as though the people aren’t aware that just because you signed an NDA, you can’t ring a whistleblowing line. And in fact, you can. So what is it about NDA? Do they always stand up in law?

Agnes Foy: Well, the genius of NDA is the more powerful. But the genius of the justice system is it is a game of how much money can you afford. So there is kind of threats from the off if there is a big economic disparity between the two people or entities who signed the NDA. But most NDA’s are unenforceable because people sign them because they’re unaware of their rights.

And although it sounds very woke to be saying talking about rights and you get dismissed for doing so, it is amazing how many city folk have no idea of their rights, including solicitors in law firms and barristers at the Bar. And I used to wonder about that. And I thought, like it is a game of it, the rules don’t apply to me. It’s a compartmentalizing. So you’ve dehumanized yourself now. Great own goal there.

Jean Hurley: Well, I think it’s important to advise our audience that you can’t. There’s nothing in the NDA that can prevent an individual from reporting harassment to the FCA. So that’s something that we should highlight today.

Agnes Foy: Well, I have one helpful piece of advice for the FCA, which is if somebody is going to whistle blow, you can’t leave them hanging on for a long time. I’ve been told so many times that by whistleblowers who aren’t in large institutions that they get in touch and nothing happens. That’s very soul destroying. Like if you’re going to have a whistleblowing line, yo’d want to man it and you want people to feel because they’re taking a big risk.

Jean Hurley: Absolutely. And this came up in the report. Fiona McKenzie, she told the committee, we have an FCA whistleblowing hotline. However, no one seems to know about it. And then it’s not very clear to women what happens if they do call the number. Is your life going to get much worse? So you’re making very good points.

Agnes Foy: But even for like it wasn’t just like none. I know of a couple. I mean, I wasn’t there when they were so bold. But I’ve been told by men who are making whistleblowing about financial activity or irregularities. No reply. And so you’d need to up your credibility. And if you want transparency, that’s a really good place to start and reassure people because it takes massive, massive courage.

Carmen Cracknell: Yeah. So I think we should go on to talking about AI And Agnes, you kind of in a roundabout way work in this area. Where do we stand right now with regulation? And I guess we can talk about the UK, US and EU context. How is AI being regulated?

Agnes Foy: Well, I don’t think it is yet, but there’s lots of lawyers jumping on it now. With a view to controlling us or attempting to control it?

Jean Hurley: Yeah, I think Elon Musk said in an interview in the FT recently that he sees maybe the end of this year and then in five years time, AI will be doing things that humans can’t even think of doing. I think it’s called A.G.I. now, isn’t it? Artificial General Intelligence. But, you know, with the EU trying to do, you know, have the big game plan, isn’t it? They’ve got their laws that should be coming to force next, well, next month or so. They were ratified. But there was Biden did something on he did an executive order, didn’t he? But as I said, I think they’re all coming from a position that’s behind what’s happening.

Agnes Foy: I think Pandora is out of the box and she ain’t going back in. So I think all the moves will start to focus on big tech and their power as the owners of AI vehicles rather than because legislating for AI just in a vacuum of, oh, we don’t like it, isn’t going to work.

Carmen Cracknell: Yeah, so specifically targeting big tech companies.

Agnes Foy: I think that is what is going to happen, because the enforcement system is there. And all the big brother aspects are easy for people to understand. So, you know, accusing Microsoft or Google or Chat GPT of wanting to take over the world is easy for people to understand in a in a monopoly or cartel context rather than grappling with what is AI doing or not doing or.

Carmen Cracknell: One of the big issues that I hear people concerned about AI talk about is data bias. And I know you mentioned gendered AI data analytics. How can this be tackled?

Agnes Foy: Well, it’s not just gender, but gender is a really big thing of if you’re just and historically, if you’ve just assembled information that is important to men and you flip all that into a machine to produce data analytics, it’s skewed, it’s biased. And so if you then press a button with the generative AI, you’re just getting that knowledge to be. All you’ve thought of is that knowledge. It’s finite. It’s not representative.

But it’s gaining in importance and inflation because it’s the only data. But a lot of data is skewed for share prices. I mean, a lot of a lot of analysts have got into a lot of trouble all down through the years for either not understanding adequately what was there in front of their noses.

So data analytics is really easy to skew. So everybody’s buzzing about data analytics now and they can’t wait for more of it. But in no time at all, it’ll be the purity of your data analytics that somebody knows what you’re grabbing the information for, what you’re going to do with it and what the parameters are. So that if you go to a law firm, say for data analytics, well, I don’t think it’s should come as a big surprise. It’s going to be skewered in favor of lawyer think. So it’s just awareness of that. It is a buyer beware.

Jean Hurley: One of the points that it’s slightly different to what you’ve been talking about was that perhaps one of the positive aspects of AI, because it’s going to stop a lot of mundane parts of work, sort of inputting information, just getting out basic information, that it will be quite positive for women, because then they can bring into the business their own skills, which, you know, they call them soft skills. But we’re talking about empathy and listening to people and decision making. And perhaps that could be seen as some of the positives that AI can bring to a business. And at some point, everyone’s been saying we’ve got to learn to trust AI and what comes out and it’ll stop being hallucinatory.

And so going forward, you’re just going to have to agree with what these data specialists are putting in is true. This is what people say. This is what Jamie Bell from the FCA has said. You know, you’re just going to have to go with it. What is true? And then just continue. I mean, if you think we do Google search now and we believe what it comes back with, whereas 15, 20 years you did a Google search, you wouldn’t necessarily believe. Well, it wouldn’t have been Google then, would it? It would have been Yahoo. So I think that’s what they’re saying about AI, that eventually we’re going to have to just start believing in what’s coming back and then looking at it, see how it’s going to be better for not just women, but all people in employment, how they can actually use their skills better while AI is doing the mundane tasks.

Agnes Foy: I mean, I think there’s great virtues to AI and I think, like Harvard Business Review, what does it rate the most now for leadership? Empathy. Empathy is a total contradiction to rational man who never existed in the first place. Rational man was a myth. There’s no such thing as a rational man. There never has been. Or woman or monkey. But empathy is it. And that’s not just beaming out to only women. It is a message that it would serve very well business-wise if men could become more empathetic and less deluded about their own rationality.

Carmen Cracknell: Yeah. So there’s obviously quite a few elections coming up this year, important elections. How concerned should we be about deepfake and how they may influence these elections?

Agnes Foy: Well, I think the chances of swaying voters is slim to none. So you won’t sway a Trump voter.

Jean Hurley: Yeah, I agree with Agnes, I think, but probably now people are down one side or the other. I don’t think you get many in the…

Carmen Cracknell: I think it’s more the other way, isn’t it?

Jean Hurley: Yeah.

Carmen Cracknell: People who might have voted Biden, if they saw a deepfake spread, a negative deepfake of him spread around, they would be more likely to vote Trump.

Jean Hurley: That’s a good point. Yeah. So for instance, if they showed him falling over.

Carmen Cracknell: Yeah, slurring a lot.

Jean Hurley: Slurring, yeah.

Carmen Cracknell: More than usual.

Agnes Foy: I mean, I think it is quite appalling to think that we are accepting almost, or I certainly am, that Trump is back in the White House by next January. It’s quite frightening that we seemed unimaginable that he’d get elected in the first place. But it goes to show you how fragile we all are.

Jean Hurley: Well, thy say in times of austerity, people just tend to look out for themselves first, don’t they?

Agnes Foy: But I think it’s gone beyond putting themselves first. It is… I mean, for every politician and political party, the rules of the game are, you know, you can latch on to a couple of things and curry favour with your electorate because of… But the big key to success is find enemies that your followers will view as enemies too, and then rabble rouse with wild abandon, fan the flames.

That’s why every politician doesn’t last too long as, you know, head honcho or honchess before they start looking overseas because they’re quite bored with the tone because… Look overseas and make new friends who won’t criticise you as much and then find an enemy. And then when things get bad, oh, war, whoopee!

Carmen Cracknell: We’ve had quite a few contributors write for us explaining the importance of the launch of bitcoin ETFs and how that’s mainstreamed crypto. Do you think this halving will have any regulatory impact and what’s your view on crypto regulation going forward?

Agnes Foy: Well, the halving, if historical data is something to go by, it’ll take about 57 days for just market adjustments to be made. But halving means the commodity becomes more scarce. So I don’t think it’s going to cause anything but sunny stuff for bitcoin owners. For bitcoin miners, it’s like your salary was halved or your source of income was halved. And you just have to either get out of that market or look for alternative income streams.

Jean Hurley: But isn’t it supply and demand so the more scarce, the more expensive it’s going to be?

Agnes Foy: But that’s it. So value of bitcoin goes up. So even though the bitcoin are getting half what they were getting, the value is going up. So if it goes up four times, what’s the issue?

Jean Hurley: I mean, I was reading that one commentator said, you know, at some point it could be seen, say, just as another resource like gold, for instance, you know, there’s something because it’s going to be the scarcity of the actual product as it is, that it becomes valuable just because of that. And so it will become more even I think they even described more, you know, it could be as popular as fiat currency.

Agnes Foy: But it’s constructed so it’s finite. Whereas most central banks, like after we’ve just got totally worn down with austerity, austerity, austerity, there is no money anywhere for like even gruel. And then suddenly something happens. And where is all this new money found? Like was it under a mattress? Nobody noticed. Where is it? So there is no confidence really in central banks because they’re they’re on a whim like somebody’s lying either.

Jean Hurley: Well, they’re printing aren’t they?

Agnes Foy: Printing. But the virtue with bitcoin or other crypto. There’s a finite number.

Jean Hurley: Like gold. So do you think it’s still disrupting the market?

Agnes Foy: I think crypto has gone mainstream. No doubt about it. And you can see all the reasons why.

Jean Hurley: Get rid of those banks.

Agnes Foy: Well, the banks, not central. Like just all the close down of the high street banks, everything being done online, the stability or the niceness of you could hop in and talk to somebody. Now, you can’t talk to anybody. So like banks are making themselves redundant.

Carmen Cracknell: What about centralized bank digital currencies? CBDCs? Do they have much of a place do you think? Or they’re a fad?

Agnes Foy: But there’s trust declined in the banking system, which even young people who might have been 10 or 12 or 15 in 2008, they do remember it because their parents must have, you know, and they saw the effects. So it’s insane to think that there’s any great confidence in the banking system. And it’s not like it stopped there. There’s been loads and loads of especially in the States, big scandals. Or here. They’re like HSBC for ignoring its whistle blowers and money laundering to beat the band.

And people are aware of it. So all of the new disruptors like Revolut and that they don’t have that dark black history and negative aspect about them. So disruption in the financial services sector and then in the central banking sector.

Carmen Cracknell: What do you think that’ll look like in the central banking sector?

Agnes Foy: For my money, I think that the statutory immunity of central banks is our financial services regulators is going to be looked at much more closely by various lawyers, particularly in the States, much more litigious over the coming years. That’s my bet, because the credibility of the Federal Reserve boards and all of them, you know, is taking a very bad hit now that all the encumbrance are becoming mainstream. Like almost everybody I know now has Revolut. I think there’s lots of others, but…

Carmen Cracknell: Monzo or one of those.

Agnes Foy: Yeah, I haven’t used any of the others, but they’re all mainstream now. And you’re looking at a sector where there was a monopoly, there’s the four big banks and then the occasional credit union or a building society. And that’s transformed.

Carmen Cracknell: But do you think like these new banks, they still can’t offer things like mortgages, can they? They still can’t really loan money in the way that old banks can.

Agnes Foy: You know, you’d want to be examining this much more closely, and actually I am, because the capital markets is what I know the most about. You’d want to be examining that much? Not you personally, but what is the justification?

Carmen Cracknell: Well, we’ll have to wrap up this week’s discussion there. And Agnes, we hope to have you back soon. And thank you to the listeners for tuning in.

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