Regulators in the U.K. are adopting tougher standards intended to fundamentally transform how financial firms treat retail customers.
The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published a policy statement Wednesday that sets out its plans for a new “consumer duty.” The move would introduce higher consumer protection standards throughout the financial services sector and require firms to prioritize their customers’ needs.
The new duty includes specific rules and guidance along with an overarching principle that “a firm must act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers.”
The new requirements would require firms to make it as easy to exit products as it is to acquire them; put an end to “rip-off charges” and fees; and provide clear and timely disclosure up front, along with accessible support that doesn’t encourage customers to give up before they get answers.
The regulator said the new duty “will mean that consumers should receive communications they can understand, products and services that meet their needs and offer fair value, and they get the customer support they need, when they need it.”
In addition to improving the lives of consumers, the FCA said the new standards should make it easier for firms to compete and innovate.
“The consumer duty will lead to a major shift in financial services and will promote competition and growth based on high standards,” said Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA, in a release.
“As the duty raises the bar for the firms we regulate, it will prevent some harm from happening and will make it easier for us to act quickly and assertively when we spot new problems.”
The industry will have 12 months to implement the new requirements for all new and existing products (July 31, 2023), and another 12 months to adopt them for legacy products that customers hold but are no longer being sold (July 31, 2024).
Nick Bayley, managing director at Kroll Inc., said the new duty “is no simple re-badging of the longstanding [treating customers fairly] rules.”
While the existing rules create relatively passive obligations, the new requirements will put “much more active responsibility” on firms.
“The regulator clearly believes that many firms do not sufficiently consider their retail customers’ interests and is placing the new responsibility for achieving good customer outcomes fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the firms’ governing bodies,” he said.