I am returning to the subject of the FCA’s Mortgages Market Study once again this month as I consider this to be the most important issue that has faced me since joining the trade body world in 2006. The proposals have the potential to significantly change our market, based on limited data analysis and a flawed view of progress. The industry must use the next four months to tell the FCA not to intervene in our market.
The study has a total focus on price, on which conclusions and remedies have been based. It is unhelpful that suitability has not been properly considered. Neither is it sufficient to make unqualified claims that exclusions such as soft facts “do not materially affect the usefulness of our findings”, without explanation. Suitability is the foundation of advice. Nuanced conversations about customers’ needs and circumstances, evidenced in the actual case files rather than by comparing credit profiles to different individuals, are key to an adviser’s recommendation of a product.
The financial crisis led to a focus on protecting consumers, including the need for advice with firms taking responsibility for their products, services and actions. The subsequent thematic work on a range of topics also encouraged firms to improve their behaviour, emphasising good and poor practice. My concern is that this last decade of low interest rates is now considered by some as normal, but it is crucial now more than ever that we don’t strip away these protections.
“Needs” has been interpreted in this study to mean “cheapest product”. For the FCA to conclude that some customers “are capable of picking a well-priced mortgage product on their own; a relaxation of the requirement to receive advice may better meet their needs” shows that it has already redefined price as the basis of what a customer needs. We do not agree that redefining advice in this way will deliver better balanced outcomes for the majority.
Consumer vulnerability has not been adequately considered in these proposals, and a transactional view has been adopted whereas advice will also include discussions on protection, later life and wider needs. It is dangerous to assume that a customer who did receive advice would have ended up with the same product if they had not spoken to an adviser. The post-MMR advice review found that the best advisers “asked sufficient questions of customers to objectively assess needs and circumstances” and that they “probed and challenged customers”. It is during these discussions when any product that the customer had in mind beforehand might not end up being the product recommended, and to the customer’s benefit. It is therefore contradictory to conclude on such limited information that these customers would have known to choose the recommended product without an adviser.
The market is already moving forward on the some of remedies proposed in the study, with a range of firms, both new and existing, developing a range of solutions which will improve the customer journey. Intervention in the scale proposed is therefore likely to hinder the ongoing innovation rather than propel it. Should we commence work on eligibility tools we consider that innovation will be delayed until the group agrees its outcomes as investors would not want to be funding obsolete solutions.
The proposal to re-define advice appears to stem from the FCA’s push for innovation, yet it admits that it received “little detail on any specific Handbook provisions that are a barrier”. With many innovative solutions having been launched since the analysis was carried out and more in the pipeline, we cannot see barriers to remove.
We have a market where many lenders choose not to sell direct, not advise or accept execution only deals. Any market solutions must embrace all participants. Consumers should have the right to have full regulatory protections as well as firms embracing technology and change to deliver great, competitive, best priced products. We believe the market is already impelled to change and does not require intervention. We do not support any move to grow execution only at the expense of FCA, FOS and FSCS protections.
Finally, we feel that with the soft facts in case files, permitted lender exclusions (panels and direct to consumer) the case for major change is not delivered. The FCA has neither proved the need for this degree of change nor delivered a cost benefit analysis to support the recommendations. We must stand firm and together as one industry.