04.03.2013
By Terry Flanagan

New U.K. Regulator Gears Up for Challenges Ahead

The U.K.’s new financial watchdog is promising a fresh approach as to how it regulates the City of London.

The Financial Conduct Authority, which only came into being on April 1, has now replaced the Financial Services Authority as it promises to wield significantly more power than its predecessor with enhanced investor protection and market supervision powers.

With a renewed focus on consumers and a greater drive to unmask market abuse, as well as addressing scandals such as Libor and the mis-selling of interest rate swaps, the FCA looks like it will be busy in the coming months.

The FCA also says that it will be taking a risk-based approach to supervision, recognizing the diversity of the firms and markets that it regulates. The new regulator says it will be much more pro-active, acting earlier and more decisively than the FSA.

“Firms need to ensure that they are putting the consumer and the integrity of markets at the heart of their business models and strategies,” said Martin Wheatley, chief executive of the FCA.

“This includes making cultural changes which promote good conduct; establishing oversight around the design and innovation of products and services; and ensuring they are transparent in their dealings with consumers.

“Our first year as a new regulator will be an exciting and challenging time but one for which we are well prepared. We are introducing new approaches to the way we do much of our work, becoming much more pro-active and consumer focused.”

John Griffith-Jones, the chairman of the FCA, has described the creation of the new financial regulator as “a once in a generation event”.

The FCA is also going to monitor social media outlets, such as Twitter, to keep an eye on developing industry concerns and worries over certain financial products.

“A risk for all regulators is becoming bound to conventional thinking,” said Wheatley. “That is why the new regulator will be much more transparent, so we can learn from our mistakes. There is no room for the poor behavior of the past. We will take action early and decisively when we see evidence of poor practices.

“We cannot succeed wholly in isolation. To achieve our aims, we need the co-operation of the firms we regulate and the vigilance of their customers. A strong, successful financial services industry is essential for consumers across the UK, and for the economic health of the whole country.”

Industry groups have also given it their backing.

“The new regulator’s priorities align exactly with those of the banking industry—to restore confidence and trust in financial services,” said Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, a U.K. trade body.

Other market participants are also hopeful that the FCA is like a breath of fresh air to the U.K.‘s regulatory landscape.

“It’s good to see the FCA’s incoming chief executive Martin Wheatley focus on enforcing investor protection across the financial services industry, particularly in light of the unearthed mis-selling scandals such as swaps sold to low and mid-cap companies and PPI [payment protection insurance] to retail customers,” said Magnus Almqvist, senior product specialist for trading technology firm SunGard’s capital markets business.

“It’s also refreshing to see that part of this initiative includes monitoring company communication channels through social media such as Twitter. This is a clear indication of the FCA’s dedication to remain relevant and at the heart of pertinent issues for our industry.

“This highlights that there’s growing demand in financial services to introduce efficient and scalable automated solutions that monitor both sales activity and communication via corporate web pages and social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.”

The FCA is inheriting most of the FSA’s old functions and will fulfill the role of U.K. financial services regulator. It will also be independent of both the government and the Bank of England. It will also be responsible for regulation of conduct in retail, as well as wholesale, financial markets and the infrastructure that supports those markets.

The Bank of England is now assuming control of U.K. macro-prudential regulation, through its new Financial Policy Committee, and oversight of micro-prudential regulation in the U.K of banks and insurers, through the Prudential Regulation Authority, a Bank of England subsidiary. In addition, the FCA will have responsibility for the regulation of firms that do not fall under the PRA’s scope.

The FCA will also be the lead authority representing the U.K. on the European Securities and Markets Authority, the pan-European regulator based in Paris that governs the region’s capital markets.

“The creation of the FCA is our opportunity to reset conduct standards,” said Wheatley at the FCA. “This power, along with our other new powers, helps define how we will regulate going forward.

“We know that some in the industry are concerned about us using this power too hastily; I want to be clear that we know proportionate judgement is needed, and that is what we will exercise. I do not expect us to use this power frequently, but both industry and consumers need to be clear that we will not hesitate to use these powers where we have serious concerns.”

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