Firing Line: Sue Lewis

Sue Lewis, chair of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, admits she can be quite contrary.

A career civil servant before her current role, she spent her past six years in administration as head of savings and investments at the Treasury, before taking early retirement and her current role.

She said: “I was always getting into trouble for being challenging and being quite difficult. I actually wasn’t a very civil service-type of person.”

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It is perhaps one of the reasons why she was appointed to be chair of the panel, joining in July last year, where she says part of the role of the FSCP is to question.

Ms Lewis added: “We’re about helping the FCA do its job better but sometimes that does mean challenging and sometimes it means disagreeing.”

The FSCP is a panel of experts drawn from the media, marketing, law and campaigning, all with a consumer champion bent and a background in standing up for the little man.

A statutory body, the FSCP is currently looking at, for example, the future of financial services regulation, the effectiveness of the FCA at conduct level and decumulation – it published a very critical report of the annuity market at the end of last year.

There are 11 members on the panel, including Ms Lewis, and the membership process is through open competition.

She takes her role as being the independent, free-thinking consumer advocate seriously. For example, she does not see auto-enrolment as being the answer to the savings crisis – in fact quite the opposite.

Ms Lewis said: “Auto-enrolment doesn’t increase people’s financial capability, it does the opposite by taking the decision away from somebody.”

She said that people will assume that their pension will be enough, simply because they are paying into it, but added: “It won’t be enough unless the government does something about employer contributions. This group of people will be more vulnerable. We are doing a huge disservice.

“If governments want to shift the risks from government to individuals then they need to be more transparent about what the deal is. No government minister is saying: This is not enough.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, given that people are going to have to save and it’s not a bad way of doing it, but it means it’s one less thing for people to think about.”

The problem she says is that people do not want to engage with their finances – “It's either very, very stressful, or very, very dull” – and no one is really stepping into the breach to help people out. The banks will not help out, as every conversation is directed towards a sale, and the Money Advice Service does not have the presence to contribute meaningfully.