FCA publishes guidance on treatment of vulnerable customers

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published a 41-page piece of guidance for businesses on how to treat vulnerable customers better.

The guidance is split into a number of sections: understanding the needs of vulnerable customers, skills and capability of staff, product and service design, customer services, communications, and monitoring and evaluation.

Fundamentally, the FCA said it wanted to see firms doing the right thing for vulnerable consumers and have that embedded in their business culture.

The main aim, the regulator said, was for firms to be more focused on ensuring outcomes for vulnerable customers were at least as good as those of other clients. It also wanted to see greater consistency across both firms and sectors so vulnerable customers were treated fairly no matter what financial service or product they were buying.

Who are vulnerable customers?

For the purposes of its guidance, the regulator said a vulnerable customer is someone who “due to their personal circumstances is especially susceptible to detriment” and that its definition was intentionally broad.

It added: “Some consumers will be actually vulnerable because of their personal circumstances. Actual vulnerability can be permanent but is often transient because consumers’ circumstances constantly change. This can cause consumers, who had not previously been vulnerable, to become so at some stage of their life.”

The FCA said examples of vulnerability could include health conditions or illnesses that affect the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, the low ability to withstand financial or emotional shocks, major life events such as bereavement or relationship breakdown, and low knowledge of financial matters.

FCA executive director of strategy and competition Christopher Woolard said: “Protecting vulnerable consumers is a key priority for the FCA and we want to see firms explicitly embedding the fair treatment of vulnerable consumers into their culture. Where we find that firms are not doing enough to ensure that consumers are treated fairly, we will take action.

“Firms need to take particular care to ensure that vulnerable consumers are treated fairly as they may be more likely to experience harm. The guidance should drive improvements across the industry, improving outcomes for millions of vulnerable consumers”.

Well done the FCA, say I.

Beware Pension Scams

Pension scams have cost savers a shocking £4bn, according to a Times piece at the weekend which highlighted how cases of mis-selling rose sharply after 2015 – when pension freedom was introduced – while more than 100,000 people transferred out of defined benefit schemes last year.

Don’t get caught out

Continuing down that line, it also says pension transfers leapt from £5.4bn in 2014 to £33bn last year. Despite being warmly received by many, it adds, pension freedoms have been a “boon to scammers”, who have convinced savers to put their money into high-risk investments.

“Pension scams have the potential to be the next big financial scandal,” says former pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann. “Regulators have failed to respond with adequate urgency and are leaving consumers at the mercy of fraudsters. The fallout risks putting younger people off pensions altogether.”

What we would advise is, beware of Cold Calls regarding Defined Benefit schemes also known as Final Salary schemes. Its illegal to cold call about pensions but it still happens and people still get caught out.

Give youth a chance

Having been in this business for 30+ years, it is fair to say that I am not in the first flush of youth.   And that length of time in business has set me thinking about two very important points.  First, is financial services a career for young people? And second, if so, are young people taking it up?

My view is of course that it is an excellent career choice for a young person but are they taking it up?  I attend numerous seminars arranged by professional bodies and by insurance companies advocating their products.  What I see when I go to these events is a distinct lack of young people in the room.

“Where are they all?”

Traditional arguments against young people typically centre around the argument that clients of an older generation, who are usually the ones with the money, want advice from people of their own age group.   Would a person in their 50s or 60s, it is said, be prepared to really take advice from a veritable youngster?  Would they not prefer to receive advice from a man or woman who has seen a bit of life, found out about the problems that can suddenly overtake them and understand all the complex events that can happen?

Of course, there are practicalities to be considered.  If the client is in, say, his mid-fifties, does he I really want an adviser who is the same age or older than him? What if that adviser retires at the same age, or dies? Will that older adviser be able to advise the clients in their declining years, or will that client have to find a adviser in later life and start the planning process all over again?

This is, of course, particularly relevant to clients with large pension pots which require attention for maybe 30 years or more.

You also have to ask whether an adviser has to have the same sort of experiences as the client to be able to advise them. For example, unmarried advisers regularly give advice to married clients and similarly advisers who might never have claimed on a Critical Illness Policy, advise clients who have.

Its all about listening to the client, being aware of their aims and objectives and understanding their fears and ambitions.  You don’t have to be the same age as the client to empathise and advise. 

Many youngsters want to learn, pass on that knowledge and will give good responsible advice. 

No matter someone’s age, he or she may be able to teach us and our clients a thing or two. So why not give youth a chance?