Richard Branson once praised alternative finance start-up Bank to the Future. But questions are now being asked about the suitability of its chief executive as a cheerleader for alternative finance. Milo Yiannopoulos reports on an unravelling web of lies.
Simon Dixon is a high-profile champion of alternatives to traditional banking made possible by technology. But, since The Kernel ran an interview with Bank to the Future’s chief executive last month about his hybrid alternative finance start-up, widespread concern in the alternative finance community about Dixon’s own credentials and credibility has been drawn to our attention. Critics point to a string of half-truths and misrepresentations from Dixon regarding his background and qualifications.
Dixon appears to have claimed multiple different university degrees to different people in different conversations, with wildly inconsistent graduation dates. On his LinkedIn profile, Dixon says he graduated from Kingston University, and he also boasts of a business Master’s degree from the University of Manchester.
Doubts have also been raised about dates “not matching up” in private conversations Dixon has had with colleagues, competitors and the press. This morning Dixon told us: “I started my degree in Economics in 1999 and graduated with a first class from Kingston University followed by a Masters in Economics from Manchester University in 2002 for one year.” This does not match at least one of his social media profiles.
This morning Kingston University denied that Dixon has a first class degree, and the University of Manchester was unable to confirm to The Kernel that Simon Dixon had ever been a student there.
Questions are being asked about Dixon’s suitability to run a high-risk finance start-up. He worked for four years at broking and advisory house KBC Peel, now Peel Hunt: three years of trading, then 10 months of corporate finance on the AIM. Dixon denies allegations that he was terminated from this position, explaining to The Kernel this morning: “I handed in my notice to start my business in 2006.”
But Dixon has repeatedly described himself as an investment banker despite never working for a bank. The only person at Bank to the Future’s management team with bank experience is Dixon’s wife, Bliss, who has worked as a Personal Banker in a Barclays retail branch after a job as a sales assistant for Boots, the high street chemist.
Is a chief executive with ten months as a junior on a private equity desk at a broker and a chief operating officer with little financial experience beyond working a till enough experience to head a risky and innovative finance company? The Kernel’s sources are sceptical.
Those sources draw attention to the extensive experience of other alternative finance start-up founders. “Anil Stocker and Charles Delingpole of MarketInvoice have perhaps bought 200 firms each in their time,” one employee of a London-based finance company says, “and Samir Desai and James Meekings of Funding Circle have between them advised hundreds of companies. Dixon perhaps had a hand in 2 or 3 AIM floats.”
Dixon describes himself as “having raised funds for business for eight years”. But if he was a market maker, he won’t have been raising money himself, only making sure that other people’s trades go through.
Dixon himself, of course, is more bullish about his credentials. He tells us: “I have written and successfully launched two books on finance which demonstrate my knowledge on the finance industry and running finance companies (one on finance careers and another on the future of finance). I have appeared on numerous national and international TV channels talking about finance.”
Comparing statements Dixon made to The Kernel with his Wikipedia page makes for excruciating reading. The page’s edit history shows multiple edits from IP address whose owners have only ever written about Simon Dixon. Plus, the page shows all the hallmarks of self-editing, including language atypical of a conventional editor, including a note that Dixon “famously” spoke at Occupy London.
A senior Wikipedia editor we spoke to this morning said he would be “stunned” if the page wasn’t entirely self-authored, and promised to flag it for further investigation.
Until recently, Simon Dixon’s job was chief executive of Metal Monkey Private Equity.The website boasts wince-making platitudes such as: “Metal Monkey’s partners to date have mainly been businesses centered around niche specialist experts and authors and financial institutions that need to adjust to web 3.0.”
“Looking at the website, it’s not even clear he understands what private equity is,” a journalist with experience in financial reporting told us. “It is not clear that MMPE has ever traded, and its website looks more like a marketing business.”
It seems odd that a website boasting of portfolio management services would be established for a marketing or public relations firm, and indeed Dixon has claimed he was a “portfolio manager” and “investor” at MMPE, despite his FSA registration having lapsed in 2006. (Such unlicensed activity would have been illegal.)
Yet, this morning, Dixon told The Kernel: “Metal Monkey Private Equity was a holding company set up to hold private shares in a company, rather than in our personal name. We never traded in this company and recently had a meeting with our accountant to close the company.
“MMPE never applied for FSA approval, as we never did anything that required FSA approval. When I stopped working for an FSA-approved company then technically two years later you are taken off the approved person list by FSA rules.”
“To say that MMPE’s website is misleading would be an understatement,” said our journalist source.
Peter Hargreaves, one of the founders of financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, is described on MMPE’s website as Dixon’s “business parter” for the venture. That would be impressive, if it were true. But when asked last night by The Kernel whether Peter Hargreaves would describe himself as Dixon’s business partner, Dixon said only that, “Peter Hargreaves was an Angel investor in one of my businesses.”
There is no evidence of any other business relationship between Simon Dixon and Peter Hargreaves. Hargreaves was unavailable for comment this afternoon.
It’s no accident that the FSA rushed out guidance on crowdfunding the day after Bank to the Future launched, say our sources. Included in the guidance is the following sentence: “We are also concerned that some firms involved in crowdfunding may be handling client money without our permission or authorisation, and therefore may not have adequate protection in place for investors.”
The only notable alternative finance firm that doesn’t guarantee that basic minimum standard of protection is Bank to the Future, and there are concerns in the industry that Dixon may be splitting client funds from Bank to The Future’s accounts. That’s a serious allegation.
“I have not heard this rumour and there is no truth to it,” said Dixon this morning. “All client money is completely separate from our money at BankToTheFuture.com and we had to verify this to a Lawyer and CCW. I attach a letter confirming this from our bank.”
The Metro Bank letter provided by Dixon only confirms that client funds have been separate for three weeks. It is dated 1 August. It is likely the letter was produced to satisfy another enquiry, perhaps from the Financial Services Authority. In any case, since Bank to the Future launched on 7 August, it suggests that the company’s banking was in order just six days before public launch.
Dixon is now being described by colleagues in the alternative finance community, who are stunned by the rapidly unravelling web of lies, exaggerations and obfuscations around this serial self-promoter, as a “fantasist”, a “dreamer” and a “massive risk” attempting a hubristic project likely to “blow up and take the industry’s reputation with him” on a “skeleton staff”.
Perhaps it’s time for the Financial Services Authority to take a closer look.