The FCA awakens

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Yesterday was the day that Chris Woollard, the FCA’s new CEO, stepped up to the plate and took command.

It began with the publication of the the FCA’s 2020/21 Business Plan 

What followed was guidance to regulated firms about what can and cannot be said on pensions and retirement income

Earlier this month, the FCA  published a joint statement with TPR and The Money and Pensions Service urging savers to stay calm and not rush into  making any decisions about their pension in response to the coronavirus.

Taken together these initiatives demonstrate an intent to support people through this tough period and I urge you to read these documents as they get to the heart of how we are expected to behave as businesses and consumers to manage our way through this crisis and beyond.

The business plan

The FCA have 5 key priorities, the four that are external are in bold.

Transforming how we work and regulate
Enabling effective consumer investment decisions
Ensuring consumer credit markets work well
Making payments safe and accessible
Delivering fair value in a digital age

The FCA’s need to transform itself was obvious. It was and is too slow in dealing with matters – from authorisations to scams. The document is frank in accepting this. We must take Chris Woollard at his word, the FCA needs to transform itself if it is to stay a top regulator.

And in changing itself, it needs to change the way in which we make our financial decisions – particularly in a digital age. I hope that my firm , AgeWage, can be a part of that.

The transformation in the short term will be impeded by the logistical challenges of lock-down. The immediate priority is to protect people today. But it’s clear that in the aftermath of lockdown, transformation will be easier, though no less painful.

I applaud the FCA for publishing this document and – since I hope to work within its perimetre, I am very glad I can see its direction of travel – thank for sharing!

Guidance on pensions and retirement income

A friend of mine messaged me wondering whether Adrian was tongue in cheek. No doubt Adrian will comment if I’m wrong, but I don’t think he was.

In the business plan,  the FCA said

At present we see significant risk of harm in these markets, in part driven by the way consumers have been given additional responsibility for complex investment decisions, through the shift to Defined Contribution (DC) pensions and the Government’s 2015 pension freedoms.

Viewing the pension freedoms as creating “risk of harm” is a radical thing for the FCA to say. It is after all an organisation that reports to the Treasury, the architect and implementer of those freedoms.

The Guidance on pensions and retirement , published within hours of the Business Plan makes it clear that providers will be expected to be responsible – if not for advice – certainly for support to those taking tough decisions. I have jokingly likened the point at which most people take decisions on their pensions to the Strait of Hormuz, the current pandemic makes navigating that waterway look like an outing on Lady Lucy.

What can be said right now.

So it is good news that the FCA are now publishing guidance about the conversations that providers can have with customers at this time

It applies in the exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on pension savers. It is not intended to apply in other circumstances.

What follows looks like a series of photo- captures from white-boards.

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There are several pages looking at risky consumer behaviours , the bad outcomes that could follow and the kind of things that providers could say (without giving advice).

These statements go way beyond what is currently said, it may be that these are emergency measures, but it is hard to see how the genie can be put back in the bottle.

The FCA awakens

Whether it is new management , COVID19 – or part of a great masterplan, the two papers yesterday, and the consumer guidance last week show a quite different FCA.

We shouldn’t be surprised by anything in this current crisis , but I am greatly encouraged to see the FCA at last addressing these key issues.

  • We do need a better way to explain to people the risks of liberating pension money
  • We need to promote the need for a lifetime income – a wage in retirement.
  • And the Government needs to take action to help people take good decisions in a digital age.

I’m very pleased that we will be doing just that and I’m glad that AgeWage will be doing it with the FCA.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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