Wirecard's former CEO arrested in Germany
London (CNN Business)Hundreds of thousands of people and businesses have been locked out of accounts linked to Wirecard after Britain’s financial watchdog ordered the collapsed digital payments company to suspend UK operations.
The Financial Conduct Authority on Friday suspended the operations of Wirecard Card Solutions after its parent company filed for insolvency in Germany following the discovery of a $2 billion hole in its accounts.
The FCA said it had taken the decision so that Wirecard “should not pay out or reduce” any money, except on the instructions of its customers. Wirecard Card Solutions provides technology and payments processing services to dozens of UK digital account and prepaid card providers, which have been forced to suspend services to customers.
“Our primary objective is to protect the interests and money of consumers who use Wirecard,” the FCA said in a statement. On Monday, the regulator said that the company was making progress in addressing its concerns but that it won’t lift restrictions until it is comfortable that “all clients’ money is safe.”
Customers of startups such as ANNA Money and Pockit cannot use their accounts to pay for purchases or withdraw money from ATMs. This has prompted the UK Department for Work and Pensions to set up dedicated helplines for individuals who rely on these accounts to receive benefits payments from the government.
Pockit, which says it is for people who have been “ignored or rejected” by main street banks, has 500,000 customers, some of who were due to receive support payments on Monday.
The FCA said that individuals experiencing financial hardship might be able to get help from a local welfare assistance scheme.
ANNA Money, a business banking startup, contacted customers on Friday telling them to urgently withdraw money from their accounts before they were frozen. That was too late for many. “We had no warning that Wirecard in the UK was in any trouble,” the company now tells customers on its website. “Your ANNA card details and the money in your ANNA account remain safe and secure — but unfortunately you cannot currently access them.”
It said it was “repeatedly assured” by Wirecard Card Solutions that its parent’s troubles would not affect its UK operations. The company said it is speaking to Mastercard (MA) about switching ANNA cards to a new payment provider.
Curve, which allows users to spend money from all their accounts using a single card, had already restored some of its services late Sunday. Its 1.3 million customers all have accounts with other banks.
“The call I received at 9am on Friday was the worst a founder could hear — that our accounts would be closed imminently, through no fault of our own,” Curve founder and CEO Shachar Bialick said in a statement.
The company had begun a long-planned migration away from Wirecard a few months back, which it accelerated over the weekend, transferring some services to Checkout.com and moving some in house, Bialick said. The changes were unrelated to Wirecard’s problems, a spokesperson told CNN Business.
Another Wirecard customer, online lender Morses Club, said Monday that its U Account customer accounts had been temporarily frozen with users only able to view balances. The company said it was talking to the FCA to find out when customers might be able to regain access to their funds, which were held securely in an account with Barclays (BCS).
Wirecard collapsed into insolvency last week after its auditor, EY, refused to sign off on the company’s financial statements and said that more than $2 billion was missing from its accounts. Markus Braun, Wirecard’s chief executive, who was arrested and then released on bail of €5 million ($5.7 million), has suggested the company may itself be the victim of fraud.
Under UK Electronic Money Regulations, Wirecard Card Services is required to ringfence customers’ money in a separate bank account. These funds are not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, however, which acts as deposit insurance in the event of a bank failure.
Mastercard and Visa (V) are reportedly reconsidering whether to allow Wirecard to continue processing payments on their networks.
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