UK consumer duty – what’s the plan and is yours ready?

On the 25th January 2023, the FCA announced that they had reviewed a sample of Consumer Duty implementation plans from the largest financial services providers – highlighting both strengths and weaknesses.

The findings published commented on how well the plans are doing in adhering to the Consumer Duty principles, whether these have been flowed through to their plans and what areas they need to work on.

Smaller institutions should use this feedback to reflect on how well their own plans are progressing to avoid facing issues as the deadline date approaches.

What is Consumer Duty?
Consumer Duty is a new set of principles created by the Financial Conduct Authority which govern how firms must act to deliver positive outcomes to retail customers. Such outcomes relate to the products & services, price & value, consumer understanding and consumer support.

Firms must consider the needs, characteristics and objectives of their customers – including those with characteristics of vulnerability – and assess how they behave at every step of the customer journey. The overarching principle of Consumer Duty is to ensure that consumers understand, to the fullest extent, what services and products they are either purchasing or buying into.

At the end of October 2022, the FCA requested the Consumer Duty implementation plans from larger, fixed retail financial services firms who had been supplied with a dedicated FCA supervision team. These firms are noted to have the greatest potential impact on consumers and markets, and likely to include banks, insurance companies, and investment companies to name a few.

Three key areas of attention
Following its review, the FCA advises that firms pay particular attention to the following:

  1. Effective prioritisation – they note that some plans were not clear on the basis for prioritising some steps within the plan over other aspects of the plan. Firms should focus on reducing the risk of poor consumer outcomes and assess where they are likely to be the furthest away from the requirements of the Duty.
  2. Embedding the substantive requirements – the FCA recognises that whilst plans are likely to be high level at this early stage, they stress that some may have considered the requirements superficially or are over-confident that current policies and processes will be adequate. It is important for Firms to review the substantive requirements asset out within the FCA’s final rules and guidance. Businesses must review their products and services, communications and customer journeys and make the changes needed to meet the Duty standards.
  3. Working with other firms – the FCA has encouraged working with other firms in the distribution chain by sharing information to ensure that the Duty is implemented both effectively and on time. It has been suggested that there has been little focus on this area and some firms need to accelerate their work on this important aspect of implementation.

Positive examples of how to approach the expectations under the Duty into your plans:
FCA supervisors have collated their feedback into the following sub-categories, where those overseeing firms’ implementation plans should pay close attention:-

Governance and oversight – the FCA will be holding firms (including senior managers and boards) accountable for delivering the good outcomes. The main areas for improvement are as follows:

  • Have you chosen a Consumer Duty Champion?
    If so, is the Champion assisting the Chair and CEO in raising the Duty in all relevant discussions?
  • Does the Champion challenge the firm’s management on embedding the Duty, focusing on consumer outcomes?
  • Does the plan include a summary opinion for risk and compliance or internal audit teams on its risks and changes of meeting the deadline?
  • Ensure your plan has clear timings for when progress updates on the programme would be provided to key governance bodies.

Culture and people – firms must be flexible in making significant changes to their culture to adapt in shifting their focus on consumer outcomes.

  • Have you ensured that all necessary staff have been provided with Consumer Duty training?
  • Does the plan highlight the difference between the Company’s culture before the Consumer Duty was introduced and afterwards? Ensure you document the differences.
  • Set out the tangible actions that need to happen to ensure improvements are made.

Deliverability: the FCA understands that embedding the Duty is a complex task and recognised this by extending and splitting up the implementation of the Duty into phases.

  • Good practice within this area is to set out key workstreams and provide differing people/department with action tasks – aimed at targeting the main four outcomes,
  • Other workstreams include policies and standards, consumer journeys and processes, data and monitoring and cultural embedding and training,
  • Make sure that there are no missed gap analyses at the earlier stages of the project, as it will be more difficult and confusing to address new matters as the plan progresses and ultimately this may lead to matters being overlooked,
  • Prioritise implementing work based on the assessment for the potential of poor consumer outcomes.

Third Parties: the Duty applies to all firms with a key role in delivering retail consumer outcomes, including those with no direct customer relationship. It is therefore essential for firms to work harmoniously across distribution chains to ensure good outcomes are met for the end retail consumer.

  • The FCA notes that some firms have a good understanding of implementation dependencies with third party providers and had allocated their time in the plan for this to work – ensure that your plan follows suit here,
  • Ensure you identify key third party relationships or the nature of any dependency,
  • Work with partners in a transparent, cross-outcome way to ensure cooperation; this can be achieved by holding face-to-face workshops for both parties to attend and design your approach, work with key suppliers where relevant on the framework for engagement of the Duty etc.
  • Exchange information in a timely way.

The Four Outcomes: it is important for your firm to engage in the substantive requirements of the Duty as these cover the key elements of the firm-consumer relationship.

  • Products and services: identify several specific products and/or services within your range that present a particular risk of poor outcomes and prioritise developing and improving these first,
  • Price and value: always remain transparent and ensure fair value principles can be applied to the context of the work you provide vs the fees you pay,
  • Consumer understanding: consider how to give customers the information they need in a way that is presented in the clearest way possible, including developing comprehensibility, visual accessibility and layout,
  • Consumer support: focus on developing stronger customer journeys, particularly focussing on how your business can provide assistance to customers in vulnerable circumstances.

Data strategies: a key part of the Duty is that you assess, test, understand and evidence the outcomes your customers are receiving.

  • You also need to consider how you will measure and monitor these outcomes – will it be allocated out by outcomes into differing sub-teams etc?

If you would like to read the updated guidance, please click here.

Next steps
The FCA have stated within its update that it will continue to work with and engage with firms where it has questions on their plans or approach, and that it will also continue to monitor the progress of embedding the Duty. The FCA has also stated that they will continue support the Champions at the larger firms.

Do not be alarmed if you receive a survey from the FCA as they intend on sampling a variety of firms to understand the progress they are making in implementing the Duty.

As of the 3rd February 2023, the FCA have also been setting out in letters the expectations of the Duty and arranging a series of regional in-person events for specific groups of small and medium-sized firms.

If you have any queries in relation to Consumer Duty and want to understand how we can help you with the implementation, please contact our commercial team.

Mark Chapman
Partner, Commercial
View profileContact Us

This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

Latest Legal Insights

Best Law Firms 2024

Herrington Carmichael has once again been named in the Times Best Law Firms. We were first listed in 2023 and have once again made the Best Law Firms list for 2024.

Best Law Firm 2024