Advisory committee on business appointments tells MP he must not utilise contacts in government in Lanistar role
The former cabinet minister Gavin Williamson has taken a job at a firm launching a payment card “built for the influencer lifestyle”, which was previously hit with a consumer warning by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and currently only offers its product in Brazil.
Williamson has gained permission to join the advisory board of Lanistar, whose website says it wants to roll out its virtual payment card and crypto services to the UK and EU.
The former minister, who served in the Cabinet Office and as education secretary, who will be paid in shares, told the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba) that he would help the firm with “providing guidance, connections (with financial institutions) and leadership to Lanistar”.
But Acoba warned Williamson about the risks of using any connections he obtained during his role in government.
“In the description of your role, you said that you would provide connections to Lanistar. You also made clear you would have no contact or dealings with government … There is a risk your connections could be used to unfairly access and influence the government and its arm’s-length bodies. Making use of contacts within government even indirectly would be a breach of the rules, which impose a lobbying ban on all ministers for two years on leaving office,” it said.
Lanistar’s business model involves appealing to influencers with more than 50,000 followers to help promote its product in return for the promise of shares in the company when its card is launched. Its website says it has more than 3,000 influencers in 100 countries onboard.
Amber Gill and Tommy Fury, who were on Love Island, and the Premier League footballer Kevin De Bruyne were among those who endorsed the company several years ago in a viral advertising campaign.
The financial technology firm was set up in the UK in 2019 and later that year was issued with a consumer warning by the FCA. The regulator subsequently withdrew the warning after the firm agreed to add an “appropriate disclaimer to its marketing materials updating its regulatory status to confirm that it is not conducting regulated activities”. It was later registered as an “e-money agent” for a regulated firm in 2021, before being deregistered in August of this year.
The company was also told by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2021 that its advert claiming to offer “the world’s most secure payment card” was misleading.
Lanistar’s founder, Gurhan Kiziloz, has said in interviews that he wants it to be a fintech “unicorn” worth more than £1bn. Its payment card and crypto app are operational in Brazil, where it has a partnership with a bank and Mastercard.
Jeremy Baber, the chief executive of Lanistar, said the company was planning to launch in the UK and had a partner in place, but that its current focus was on the Brazil market, where it has 50,000 customers.
He said the FCA warning was “very old news” and highlighted the firm’s subsequent registration with the regulator.
“The warning was due to the previous leadership failing (accidentally) to add a pre-marketing disclosure on their marketing materials,” he said. “We have good reason to believe that the reason for this ‘warning’ was due to a competitors of [a partner of the company] who were angry at Lanistar’s decision to choose [the partner] over them.”
In relation to the ASA, Baber said: “The claim made by Lanistar at the time was a little over-zealous, and as I said to the team they should have taken the ‘Carlsberg’ approach and stated the card was ‘probably’ the most secure in the world – then this issue would never have happened. Again, naivety rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead. However, it should also be said this was a response to marketing before a product was even in existence.”
He said the company “will only go live in the UK when we are ready and have integrated GooglePay and ApplePay into our UK product. Again, we intend to be different and not offer plastic.”
The job is Williamson’s third role on top of his work as an MP and a position at RTC Education, a university provider owned by the Conservative donor Selva Pankaj. RTC Education pays Williamson £50,000 a year, as well as giving him a one-off bonus of £25,000 this autumn.
Williamson has been approached for comment.