FCA in Wonderland

The Financial Conduct Authority’s latest attempt to justify its own existence should be datelined 1st, not 5th, April. Their 2016/17 Business Plan is primarily addressed to risk. For example, the Chancellor’s decision to allow pensioners to spend their own money carries the risk that they will not do so as the FCA would like them to do. This is clearly intolerable. Fortunately “Our intelligence-led [sic] approach allows us to bring together information both externally derived and from across the FCA to develop a cohesive view of the risks, issues, challenges and opportunities in a particular sector, viewed through a number of different lenses.” (p.12) Not a lot of pensioners can do that.

These lenses do not seem to include the problem the FCA itself has created by driving so many Independent Financial Advisers out of business and thereby depriving future pensioners of the advice they need. They do, however, recognise that their hounding of banks and others, e.g. for mis-selling, has led to larger financial institutions “de-risking” their products, thereby reducing consumer choice and competition.

“We know that de-risking by banks is causing problems for some groups of consumers. While we do not control this process, we are undertaking work to help address the issue. We will complete our de-risking impact assessment in Q1 2016, giving us a clearer picture of the nature, scale and drivers of de-risking. We will work with Government, firms and others to create a proportionate strategic response.” (p.27).

The word “strategic” in that does not accord with the FCA’s continuing efforts to micro-manage the sector. The strategy we need is to return the sector to being a normal competitive market with brands, variety, innovation and consumer choice. By all means let us have a Which?-type organisation to critique and compare offerings and of course the financial sector should be included within the remit of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to ensure fair trade. What we do not need is non-stop fiddling with detailed rules no one understands.

The risk-averse FCA 2016/17 plan contrasts with the speech of 6th April by Alex Chisholm, CEO of the CMA. The latter is broad in concept, technologically up to date and welcoming of innovation.

UK financial services are less at risk from Brexit, or remaining in the EU, than from the FCA’s preoccupation with risk, much of it created by the FCA itself. The only strategy it needs is self-immolation.