Why is Consumer Duty regulation important?
The Financial Conduct Authority’s updated Consumer Duty regulations come into force at the end of July this year and companies will be expected to be able to show some evidence of movement towards compliance.
The need for an update was highlighted by the growing knowledge gap between buyer and seller, with some sellers exploiting that knowledge. Financial services business customers often have very limited knowledge of the products and services offered to them and rely heavily on advice from the providers when making choices. Financial Ombudsman Complaints have been rising steadily year on year, and consumer trust is at an all-time low, threatening an already volatile market.
Communications as a part of Consumer Duty
Communications are an integral part of Consumer Duty, the first part of which comes into force on 31
st July 2023. For customers to benefit properly from any product or service they must have a clear understanding of all the options available to them along with potential benefits and risks.
The main issue with conforming to the new Consumer Duty is communicating with clients, according to Lang Cat Founder Mark Polson
1.The regulations aim to ensure that a diverse range of consumers have access to suitable products that provide fair value for money. For organisations providing these products and services, this means using customer communications channels to:
The expectation is that every organisation will be able to gather data on consumer understanding and provide this as part of their Consumer Duty reporting. Tracking and reporting key performance indicators will encourage firms to monitor and improve customer understanding and experiences.
What can you do to prepare for compliance?
Reviewing your customer communications plan is a great way to get going. Read on for more detail or skip to the end to jump straight to the action list.
1. Help customers understand their choices
Communications should be constructed to help customers understand as much as possible about the options available to them. How far you tailor a communication depends on whether it is a high-volume communication or a one-to-one. An advisor would be expected to provide detailed explanations and context for a customer on a phone call, for example.
“If advisers simply pass on material to their clients which they cannot possibly be expected to read and expect them to make decisions based on that material, they will have “failed” in upholding the spirit of the Consumer Duty.”
For years firms have made terms and conditions more and more complex as they look to cover every possible scenario, but there is now pressure to make them concise and easier to understand. Even if they are not shortened it will be an advisor’s responsibility to make sense of the content for their customer.
A communication detailing a product update which is sent to a large number of customers should be personalised but does not have to be tailored specifically for every customer. Having said this, from a customer experience point of view, the further you can go with relevant personalisation, the better.
The design and layout of communications, selecting the right channel and timing are all important. Personalised video is an excellent way to engage and educate customers on complex products and, with detailed management information, can help firms demonstrate improvements.
2. Eliminate or reduce foreseeable harm
As part of the gap analysis firms will be expected to identify products or services which are not providing good customer outcomes. Where appropriate, customers should be sent a communication to inform them that an alternative product or service is available. While it is not the Duty’s intention that products and services be removed, this may well be a natural consequence of the regulation.
“Depending on the context and the scale of the harm, firms looking to address an identified issue could start by amending their communications, testing consumer understanding and monitoring outcomes before trying other actions.”
A good place to start is with any low-hanging fruit. A good example of this would be where a product switches to a more expensive rate after an introductory period. This could be a mortgage rate or the interest rate on a credit card. A communication or series of communications making sure that the customer understands the changes is recommended. If your data discloses that a customer does not read emails, for example, you could switch to an alternative channel such as post.
A true omnichannel solution with detailed MI reporting is the best way of ensuring that your firm communicates effectively with your customers.
Focus should be placed on any products or services that are causing harm to the consumer. A customer could be unaware that they are paying far more than the typical price for a product. It is the providers responsibility to make sure the customer understands this and offer alternatives wherever possible.
3. Satisfy the regulator
Firms should look at communications holistically to ensure that they meet the expectations of the Duty. This will include reviewing every form of communication with the customer; verbal, digital and physical. The context of every communication is important. You should try to understand as much as possible about your customer base on a broad level. Any chosen communication channel and format should be suitable for the customer. The Duty raises the standard of care for all customers and should be viewed alongside the guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers (FG 21/1)
The FCA has highlighted that the number of vulnerable customers is higher than most people appreciate; one in seven adults having low levels of literacy and one in three demonstrating lower levels of numeracy. There is plenty of room for improvement in how firms communicate. Communications can be made more concise, easier to understand and more accessible. Relevant information should be sent over the right channel at the right time.
If a customer has opted out of marketing communications that is their prerogative. There is no requirement to market new products to them under the Duty. However, it may still be appropriate to communicate more general information within a service message, as long as this does not contravene GDPR, Data Protection and PECR laws.
4. Measure your success
“We want firms to be able to demonstrate consumer understanding – because they have tested it and made improvements to their communications, where appropriate, to support good outcomes.”
The Duty suggests three ways to monitor your success: The Financial Lives Survey (conducted by the FCA), the number of consumer complaints, and utilising firm management information.
Rich management information on the delivery, receipt and engagement of all forms of communication will all help you fine-tune your customer communications processes. Surveys and customer satisfaction scores provide further information that you can also use to measure and improve.
The Action List
It is always tricky knowing where to begin but here are our suggestions:
- Review customer journeys
- Review your customer communications plan
- Offer alternative channels and formats to vulnerable customers
- Look for signs that a channel is not sufficient to meet a customer’s needs
- Make it easier for customers to engage in two-way conversations
- Review and simplify terms and conditions
- Review and update data collection (including predictive analytics)
- Review and use MI to improve
If you would like any help or to learn more, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org