Posted March 15, 2022
In this latest guest blog post Martin Coppack, Director, Fair By Design, discusses calls for the FCA to ‘have regard’ to financial inclusion issues across its work.
“I want to talk about financial inclusion” begins Emma Hardy MP’s questioning of Sheldon Mills; Executive Director, Consumer and Competition; the FCA, at the recent Treasury Select Committee evidence session on the Future of Financial Services. This was music to my ears. With so much up for grabs in the government’s review of the Future Regulatory Framework, and a lot for the Committee to cover in its session with the regulator, it would be easy for discussion of financial inclusion and the poverty premium to get left behind.
But not this time, both Hardy’s questions and Mills’ responses gave us at Fair By Design reasons to be cheerful. Currently the FCA doesn’t have any statutory requirement to address or even take into account financial inclusion issues such as the poverty premium – the extra costs poor people face for essentials such as credit and insurance or not being able to pay by direct debit. And so issues, such as access to affordable insurance or basic bank accounts, often fall through the cracks between the regulator and the government. With each pointing the finger at the other on who should take responsibility for helping the most financially excluded in the UK.
So it was indeed a reason to be cheerful to hear Sheldon Mills acknowledge that the poverty premium does get bounced between bodies, and that there is more the FCA could do to tackle financial inclusion. What next, and how can we ensure the regulator’s warm words translate into tangible actions?
The government’s review of the Future Regulatory Framework presents a golden opportunity to do just this. By giving the regulator responsibility to ‘must have regard’ to financial inclusion, the government can ensure that the FCA routinely takes into account financial inclusion issues across its work. This will mean that resolvable issues such as universal access to affordable insurance or access to free cash machines will stop falling through the cracks, or at least be tackled quicker. This doesn’t mean the regulator will be pulled into carrying out social policy, but ensure that it considers financial inclusion across all that it does and, importantly, publicly states who is best placed to act on those issues that continually bounce between the regulator and government.
In February, Fair By Design together with the Financial Inclusion Commission and a host of other signatories including The Money Advice Trust; industry players; and supporters from across the political spectrum, wrote to the Economic Secretary, John Glen MP, calling on him to take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure low-income consumers are no longer forgotten. The regulator seems to get that there is an opportunity here, let’s hope the Minister gives it the chance to take it.
Fair By Design is a charity dedicated to ending the poverty premium. Find out more about this campaign at https://financialinclusioncommission.org.uk/campaigns/
Martin is Director at Fair By Design. With a background in consumer advocacy, grant-making and regulation, Martin has held a range of positions, all with a common objective to place low income and vulnerable people at the heart of policy making. He is a Commissioner for the Financial Inclusion Commission, and an adviser to the Canadian financial regulator on consumer protection.. View all posts from Martin Coppack.