Examination of Witnesses

Part of Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:11 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Fran Boait:

That is a great question. To build on what Jesse said about mutuals and your wider point about consumer regulation, the issue with our financial services regulation is that all regulation tends to favour the status quo—the incumbents. That is where Parliament’s voice is so crucial, as is having more of a civil society voice than we had pre-crash. It might not be obvious how the FCA regulates a mutual bank. Without direction from Parliament that the regulator’s purpose is to look at diversifying the UK banking or financial services sector to include different ownership models, the FCA is not really in a position to understand fully or quickly, or move fast on how it can support the emergence of new banks.

On banks and consumers, since the crash, we have seen all these challenger banks coming in, but they are operating very much the same model of a shareholder bank, with short-term profits, and without any kind of wider thought for environmental or social mission-driven aims, or regional considerations. We have not really diversified the sector, and it will be very challenging for us to do so unless the regulators think differently. I think that Jesse and I agree that one of their goals should be to diversify the sector’s ownership models, in terms of mission, geographic location and so on. For consumers, and especially someone setting up a new local co-op or small business, that would be a lot better, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic wanting to build back better.

I definitely support a lot of your work on high-cost credit, but although there were some wins on payday loans and in other areas, that issue tended to be transferred to other areas, such as credit cards; some good proposals were put forward on how to regulate those. Obviously, we hope to see the FCA moving fast on trying to ensure that regulation is put forward as quickly as possible where there is a clear issue with extremely high interest rates on high-cost credit.

I repeat that we need to bring this back to the systemic problem of such a large sector of society being on low pay with high living costs. We need to think about the underlying macroeconomic issues, which are very relevant to the direction of financial services. If we are serious about taking things in a more positive direction as we emerge from the pandemic and Brexit, we need more voices for consumer rights in financial services, and for environmental and social considerations. That will be critical if we are to see a more positive direction from financial services, in terms of serving consumer needs.