The Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed its plans to introduce a new Consumer Duty.  It says that this will fundamentally improve how firms serve consumers. It will set higher and clearer standards of consumer protection across financial services and require firms to put their customers’ needs first.  The duty includes a new Consumer Principle that “a firm must act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers”.

The Duty is made up of the overarching principle and new rules firms will have to follow. It 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.  The FCA also hope that clarity on its expectations and firms focusing on what their customers need should lead to more flexibility for firms to compete and innovate in the interests of consumers. 

The Duty forms part of the FCA's aims to become a more assertive and data-led regulator. With firms assessing how they’re meeting their customers’ needs, the FCA will be able to quickly identify practices that don’t deliver the right outcomes for consumers and act before practices become entrenched as market norms.

The Duty will include requirements for firms to:

  • end unfair charges and fees;
  • make it as easy to switch or cancel products as it was to take them out in the first place (this reflects the UK government’s more general consumer proposals to deal with subscription traps);
  • provide helpful and accessible customer support, not making people wait so long for an answer that they give up;
  • provide timely and clear information that people can understand about products and services so consumers can make good financial decisions, rather than burying key information in lengthy terms and conditions that it points out few have the time to read;
  • provide products and services that are right for their customers; and
  • focus on the real and diverse needs of their customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances, at every stage and in each interaction.

The FCA is giving firms twelve months to implement the new rules for all new and existing products and services that are currently on sale. The rules will be extended to closed book products 12 months later, to give firms more time to bring these older products, that are no longer on sale, up to the new standards. It has also produced guidance on the new Consumer Duty.