The business - Patrick Hosking recalls the Wall Street Crash

The shares crash of 1929 gave rise to legislation aimed at curbing abuses by US capitalism. Not so n

It is the 75th anniversary of the Wall Street crash. There were many victims, though the ruined stockbrokers throwing themselves from skyscrapers were apparently invented by British reporters in need of colour.

Though the shares slide ushered in the Great Depression, it also provided the impetus for a clean-up of corporate America. A string of legislation in the 1930s, including the Banking Act 1933 (known as "Glass-Steagall") stamped out Wall Street's abuses and conflicts of interest. Much of that legislation has since been watered down. Glass-Steagall - which wisely separated securities companies from deposit-taking banks - was unwisely laid to rest by Bill Clinton, to whoops from the likes of Citigroup and J P Morgan.

The stock-market slide of 2000-2003 and accompanying scandals such as Enron and WorldCom have produced much less reaction from US law-makers. The response to Enron - the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002, which requires chief executives to swear personally that their accounts are accurate - is a pebble beside the wall of reform put in place under Franklin D Roosevelt. The spectacular productivity of the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, in exposing abuses by US capitalism leaves little doubt the stables need cleaning again. But Bush is no Roosevelt. Nor indeed is Kerry.

I was astonished to learn that the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) employs as many as 870 people. Asked to guess, I would have plumped for a couple of hundred, tops. Yet customers seeking redress from spivvy financial advisers, incompetent banks and wriggling insurance companies find their cases sitting in limbo and/or hopelessly mishandled. Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman, admits there is a problem, but says the organisation has been hit by an avalanche of endowment mis-selling disputes. He blames financial institutions for failing to sort out complaints at an earlier stage.

I have some sympathy. The industry is deliberately (and sometimes enthusiastically) referring aggrieved customers to the FOS, no doubt suspecting that the ensuing muddle, bureaucracy and delay will deter all but the most tenacious complainers.

I have one small suggestion for Merricks: man the phones when people actually need your advice. Most people have time and energy to grapple with their financial problems only in the evenings and at weekends. Yet anyone calling the FOS after 5pm or at any time on Saturdays and Sundays is greeted with a recorded message.

When the FOS is hiring senior arbitrators for £94,760 plus benefits, there can't be a shortage of money.

The man from the Pru is in trouble: Jonathan Bloomer, chief executive of Prudential Corporation, is going cap in hand to the City for £1bn to strengthen the balance sheet.

Bloomer's bloomers have been well-documented - a botched US mega-merger, a shamelessly greedy boardroom pay scheme that had to be shelved twice, a disastrous overseas foray for the Pru's online bank Egg, and the first cut in the dividend since the First World War.

Some institutional shareholders are muttering that they want Bloomer out. But is anyone prepared to be first with the sharp instrument? The ousting of Michael Green from Carlton last year was achieved only because Anthony Bolton, the powerful fund manager at Fidelity, was prepared to stick his head above the parapet. But it's one thing to knife an unloved outsider from the entertainment industry, and quite another to lead the ambush of a colleague at the heart of the Square Mile.

If you think insurance company staff are interested only in ripping off members of the public, you're wrong. They are prepared to fleece their colleagues, too.

Royal & Sun Alliance, in a case just published by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), mis-sold precipice bonds to hundreds of its own former staff and pensioners. Precipice bonds became fashionable in the late 1990s. Their very high rates of interest were trumpeted; only the small print told you the principal wasn't guaranteed. They were a recipe for mis-selling and tens of thousands, often elderly people seeking a decent income as interest rates fell, were induced to take the plunge by dozens of firms. When the stock market turned down, they lost heavily.

RSA victims have been compensated and the RSA subsidiary responsible - now owned by the outsourcing group Capita - fined. But the twist in the story is that some victims had previously been made redundant by RSA. To sack someone and then persuade them to punt their redundancy cheque in such a way suggests a jaw-dropping level of cynicism somewhere in the organisation.

Patrick Hosking is investment editor of the Times