New regulation requires financial services firms to undertake a large-scale review of their products, IT, operations, customer service, and customer communication
UK financial service firms like yours have been anxiously anticipating the final rules and guidance for the Consumer Duty regulation, which have now been published. The Consumer Duty will change the way the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates the retail financial services sector, by moving to an outcome-based approach rather than a reactive approach to regulation. It is intended to set higher standards for customer care and deliver good outcomes for retail customers, by increasing consumer protection and promoting effective competition in the interests of customers.
For your financial services firm, this new regulation will mean that a rigorous review process must be put in place, to ensure that products and services meet the needs of the customer and fulfil the Consumer Duty requirements.
Senior managers must proactively fulfil their responsibilities in this regard, as the new regulation offers very clear rules in areas such as cost cutting.
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What’s the schedule for Consumer Duty implementation?
Feedback received in consultation with stakeholders during the design of the regulation was that more time was needed, with the review of closed book products and services likely to be the most onerous. As a result of this feedback, the new schedule for implementation of the Consumer Duty is as follows:
- 31st July 2023 for new and existing products or services that are open to sale or renewal
- 31st July 2024 for closed products or services
Key components of the new Consumer Principle
The Duty is comprised of three main elements, the consumer principle, cross-cutting rules and the four outcomes. The new Consumer Principle requires ‘a firm must act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers‘ and is supported by the cross-cutting rules that requires firms to take all reasonable steps to:
- Avoid foreseeable harm to customers
- Enable customers to pursue their financial objectives
- Act in good faith towards customers
The four outcomes the FCA is seeking are as follows:
- Fair value: consumers receive fair prices and quality
- Suitability and treatment: consumers receive suitable products and services and receive good treatment
- Confidence: consumers have strong confidence and levels of participation in markets
- Access: diverse consumer needs are met
To whom will the regulation apply?
The scope of the Consumer Duty is broad, as the term ‘retail customers’ also applies to products and services delivered to corporate entities as well as individuals. The Duty will also apply to firms who do not have a direct relationship with the end customer and have a material influence on retail customer outcomes. However, it is not applicable to a company that provides IT systems.
Under the new regulation, your firm will have to consider every single step of the customer journey through a product’s life. This will include the design of the product itself, the communications to customers around and about the product, and customer service over the entire product life cycle.
A significant effort and a broad impact
Whilst many firms are already providing good service and fair customer outcomes, other will require focus and potentially significant effort to comply and meet the deadline. Initially, your firm will have to complete a detailed products review and document all decisions made, along with their recommended actions.
This regulation could require your financial services firms to have to undertake a large-scale review of its products, IT, operations, customer service, and customer communication. The regulation includes products sold direct to customers as well as through third parties, therefore the product owner is always accountable to comply with the regulation, potentially adding complexity and cost to some organisations.
The Consumer Duty could have an impact on some firms’ profitability, as customer service must meet reasonable needs of the consumer. Organisations’ back-office operations, customer service and communications capabilities could require significant changes in order to comply with the regulation. Complying includes supporting the ability of customers to easily leave, cancel or transfer their product in a frictionless way. In other words, it must be as easy to exit or transfer as it was to purchase.
Your firm will also need to assess its products as to whether they deliver ‘fair value’. This will need to be fully documented in your assessment of pricing structures, and the review process may lead some firms to conclude high margin products need to be reassessed, which could potentially affect overall profitability.
Expectations for the implementation period
The FCA has set out its expectations for the implementation period:
- Implementation plan ratified by the board – Oct 2022
- Complete review of all products and services prior to April 2023 and then remedies by July 2023
- Prioritise any serious items causing immediate consumer harm
- Consider bringing forward any changes that give consumers better outcomes
- Engage with FCA where products and services will be withdrawn
- Boards responsible for review and monitoring to keep on track
- Alert the FCA if work will not be complete. Prioritise those actions with biggest impacts on consumer outcomes
- At the end of the implementation period boards should be sure that they are complying and remedy any gaps or weaknesses
Impact on customer communications
A firm’s communications with its customers forms a vital part of delivering a good outcome for customers. An example might be the need to clearly communicate alternative product offerings to deliver a good customer outcome. The Consumer Duty also offers very specific guidance on how to support vulnerable customers.
Enforcement and monitoring
To meet the new requirements set out by the Duty, governance processes will need to be reviewed and updated, and customer outcomes will need to be and measured. Entire customer service processes, measurement and reporting will need to be reviewed and updated to ensure the right outcomes for customers, with any product changes quickly and effectively managed and communicated.
The FCA will expect your firm to be able to provide them with:
- Evidence of the appointment of a champion at board level
- MI specific to the Duty
- Part of the Annual report dedicated to the Duty
While there is no regulatory reporting requirement at this stage, firms will be expected to be able to clearly demonstrate data collection and the results of their monitoring. Some of the consumer groups involved in the consultation felt that an absence of regular reporting requirement would lead to non-compliance.
The FCA has indicated that it will use its full range of powers to tackle any serious misconduct which could include a fine or securing redress for customers that have suffered harm, saying:
“When considering whether a firm has fallen short of our expectations, we form a judgement on whether the firm has acted reasonably taking into account the rules and guidance applicable, as well as the facts and circumstances of each case. This will not change under the Duty. The only difference is that firms will be judged against the higher standard set out in our new rules and guidance.”
Work with a specialist for a simpler path to compliance
Meeting this new regulatory burden is an operational challenge, and the timeline is relatively tight. To reduce the load and ensure compliance, your firm could choose to work with third parties to help shape and deliver improved customer service and communications.
Working closely with specialist communications companies such as Doxim across the key areas (below) could positively affect all areas and enable a simpler path to compliance whilst improving customer service and communication over the customers chosen channel and managing operational costs down.
- Product design
- Customer service
- Price and value
As customer communication specialists, Doxim can support your Consumer Duty-related review and future requirements to meet the regulation.
Our specialists can advise on all communications, starting with the output from the product design phase, we can work with you to complete detailed customer journey mapping of each product and design bespoke communications that gives your customers individual flexibility in their communications and channel of choice.
Doxim can advise, design, build and deliver all your regulatory customer communications as an on-going service and within a secure pay-as-you-go model.
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Learn more about the Consumer Duty: