OpinionFeb 23 2023

Is the FCA a price regulator after all?

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Is the FCA a price regulator after all?
The FCA's consumer duty rules will require firms to provide a financial forecast that illustrates that products are of fair value. (Dreamstime/FT/Fotoware)

"The regulator is not a price-setting regulator". 

That is what former Financial Services Authority senior executive Sheila Nicoll told Financial Adviser many, many years ago, in early 2013, shortly after the then FSA had brought the Retail Distribution Review into effect. 

The issue discussed at the time was whether, under the new-look Financial Conduct Authority, the regulator would be looking at how service propositions and product propositions would be priced. 

At the time, the theory centered around the suitability of advice and the product recommendation, being able to provide a full audit trail leading to that recommendation, with the belief that the end of commissions on investment products under RDR would remove perverse incentives for recommending products. 

Will we start to see a mean reversion in the average advice firm pricing structure as a result?

In late 2013, Lifesearch's founder Tom Baigrie warned that the incoming FCA may well commence working towards "the ending of all-scale independent distribution by a total commission ban", in which providers go straight to consumers and pricing is set by the providers outright. 

At the time, he added that the industry should hope the regulator gets it right by focusing not on the way that intermediaries are paid, but the culture in which they work. 

Of course, the incoming FCA said it was not a pricing regulator.

In 2016, former editor Emma Ann Hughes wrote a piece reporting on the acting chief executive of the FCA Tracey McDermott.

At the time, McDermott acknowledged the RDR had made advice too expensive, because it had caused banks to leave the sector, making it harder for the less-affluent to seek advice.

And then in 2019, the FCA published a statement on unfair pricing, in which it said it "will act to protect all consumers affected by price discrimination in the financial services market and not just those deemed to be vulnerable". 

As reported, the financial regulator admitted it would be "more likely" to intervene if price discrimination in the industry resulted in harm to vulnerable customers. 

But of course, the FCA is not a pricing regulator.

Consumer duty

Fast forward a few more years, and the new consumer duty regulations state there will be an emphasis on pricing and how advice firms seeking authorisation will expect to be able to fund their growth.

The regulations stipulate that while different information will be required depending on a firm’s business model, all would-be firms are now expected to provide a financial forecast that illustrates that products are of fair value.

Moreover, the FCA will use the consumer duty to ensure that "additional costs and charges are price-reflective rather than being used to generate profit".