A fourth way to fund regulation?

Regulatory update for Financial Advisers & Paraplanners

22 Jan 2019

A fourth way to fund regulation?

First of all Panacea followers, this is our 1,000th Bento. Given this landmark status, I felt that it should contain something special, and with that in mind, I would like to make a heartfelt suggestion or two about how the regulation and protections in the financial services industry could be re-engineered, for in regulatory parlance, better regulated firm and consumer outcomes.

This is quite long, but it needs to be to articulate conceptual thinking that can be taken forward and developed.

In a scene from ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’, the great Gordon Gekko defines financial services moral hazard as “when they take your money and then are not responsible for what they do with it”.

But being responsible is what the financial industry should be about, we have reached a stage that the responsibility should fall on all as the few who mess it up never have the resource to put things right.

There is an urgent need to find a better way to fund the cost of delivering confidence and developing consumer protection. At its core, the funding the seemingly endless liabilities for consumer compensation regarding ‘inappropriate (bad) or unsuitable advice’ and/or failure of product.

If not found, the only way to even think about evaluating the worth, let alone seeking access to advice, will become so expensive only the very rich will be able to seek it out and the entry of new firms impossible.

That in turn creates further problems to those provider firms who rely almost totally on intermediated distribution.

A leading provider CEO observed only this week that: The truth is that we currently have a mixed economy in terms of compensation for mis-selling, product flaws, etc. Individual firms have primary liability for their actions and the wider FS industry carries the costs of systemic regulation and systemic failures (FSCS). Whilst everyone grumbles about this it is pretty sensible. Firms have real incentive to ensure that their activities are meeting standards, but the overall system has a backstop to maintain public confidence”. 

He is quite right, but how regulation and consumer protection are funded is what I see as the problem and not the responsibility focus where the ‘who pays’ door has slammed shut.

The problem:

Currently regulation and the compensation culture based on consumer expectations, fraud, advice failure and entitlements has presented the financial services industry as a harvesting opportunity for limitless cash calls from lawyers and consumers, who some may argue, should take some responsibility for their own actions and not always expect the financial services industry to compensate for circumstances that were quite possibly of their own making or not the intent of the advice channel at the time of giving the advice.

Financial products are predominately ‘purchased’ as a result of adviser recommendation, this can now include sales attached to products such car purchase. This distribution of intangible products is often referred to as intermediated distribution. The latter outlets, although regulated, are rewarded by way of commissions.

Pretty much all life, pension, protection and investment product providers do not sell or distribute what they design and build and have not for decades. Instead they rely on third parties. That party is the adviser community, tied, restricted or whole of market. That distribution method became predominantly fee based on 31st December 2012, excluding protection products and mortgage related advice.

Many argued that this date spelt the end of mass market access to financial advice and the beginning of a more professional era where if you could not pay, or were not deemed financially worthy, customer segmentation by advisers ensured advice was not coming your way any time soon, or at all.

However, it seems that when the adviser advice, rather than what was previously known as a sales process, all goes wrong, a derivation of Billy Bennet’s thirties music hall ditty seems to apply. Something along the lines of “it’s the rich what has the pleasure and the poor that gets the blame”.

In this case read IFA for ‘the poor’ as the blame always falls at the advice door.

And in some cases that blame may be correctly placed but irrespective of that, IFA firms are not always financially well-resourced to compensate. This simple fact is the cause of the big problem the FSCS, PI insurers and firms left who pick up the cost of the clear up face.

Poorly, yet still compliantly capital adequate firms often collapse after a big call of money from the FSCS or even a single successful complaint and unaffordable compensation payments.

The regulatory year 2018/19 with just over 3 months to go, has seen the FOS refer 273 cases from around 74 companies to the FSCS. For these firms, Sipps accounted for 39% of FOS casework, PPI 28% and portfolio management 9%. This in turn will see more complaints against those firms hit the FSCS as the FOS will wash their hands of them as they will be placed in default.

Smaller IFA firms often do not use limited liability protection options, instead using their personal assets to satisfy capital adequacy. For many established firms adequate capital adequacy and affordable, operationally functional PI to ride out a bad advice claim award is difficult to get because of a very restricted pool of insurers and a continuing slew of claims for unregulated products being distributed by regulated entities.

Limited liability protection actually increases the risk of firms failing.

As PI cover is arranged a year at a time, any claim or notification of a claim in the current policy year, with a diminishing pool of reinsurers and huge premiums, could be curtains at renewal in the next year, no PI = no business.

Although there are always exceptions in commercial life, very, very few businesses set out to disadvantage clients for their own gain. It seems in today’s world of financial services that the collapse of firms can often be brought about because of a failure to get compliant PI, a big (even small) FOS redress order, or a flood of unexpected FSCS calls for cash from the misdemeanours of others. This in turn sees reducing adviser numbers that in turn presents fewer firms to pay ever increasing liabilities of others as they fail.

All this is really not helped by a consumer perception, as noted above, that all financial products and advice present an opportunity for a ‘refund’ many years later if what was suitable at the time of the advice is not seen that way, say, 15 years later due to changed client circumstances, changes in their aims and aspirations that applied at the time of advice.

Why? Very simply because there is no longstop, something that applies in just about every commercial walk of life. After six complete years from the date of the transaction there is no redress for bad service, goods or advice as commercial law does not permit it. In the world of financial services, it is forever, although I note that the FOS is now exercising the six years plus three rule a bit more.

In the summer of 2018, Panacea ran a FOS survey whereby 83% of respondents felt that FOS complaints process places them in an automatic position of guilty until proven innocent. The outcome should be determined by the evidence available and/ or the balance of probability. Often, that is not seen by firms as being the case. No file, because the case was more than say seven years in the past, does not help. Equally so if a file is retained, data protection could come back to bite as record keeping beyond seven years could be seen as a breach.

It is all well and good suggesting that the polluter pays from a compensation point of view, but the reality is they cannot because the pollution has proved so toxic, they just died along with everything else in that murky pond. In other words, the death of the polluter means they can never pay.

Now to go off piste, bear with me…

In 1970, I started working in the Lloyds marine re-insurance market. My ‘learning’s’ area of expertise was around reinsurance and claims, very specifically the ‘Torrey Canyon disaster’ of March 1967, the claims were still being worked on three years later.

As any insurer will tell you, you need to spread the risk base you hold, advisers take note. To do that you need to reinsure to protect yourself as a ‘name’ and your business. This is common place with life assurance products.

For those who do may not know, back in the ‘60s and 70’s Lloyds syndicates (the collective of insurers) operated in what was at the time the biggest open space room in the world opposite the current Lime Street current location.

Their individual ‘office space’ was referred to as a ‘booth’ paying homage to the coffee shop heritage that started Edward Lloyds concept in 1686. Each booth contained specialist syndicate underwriters who took a view on a risk, like Torrey Canyon, and signed up to insure it. No computers, just a piece of paper and in many cases a quill. The back office was another world of paper, comptometers, typists, and clerks but it all worked.

The super tanker SS Torrey Canyon hit rocks off the coast of Cornwall.

What was different about Torrey Canyon was the scale. The ship, one of the new generation of tankers, had been lengthened with the insertion of a new, larger mid-section. She was carrying, on a single voyage charter, nearly 120,000 tons of crude oil from Kuwait to Milford Haven in South Wales. Being deeply laden, she had to catch the late evening tide for berthing. To save half an hour and avoid a wait of five days, the Italian master took a route to the east instead of the west of the Scillies.

Those Italian captains eh, where has that happened since?

When the tanker struck the Pollard Rock, thousands of gallons of crude oil, a filthy chocolate-coloured mess, started spilling from her ruptured tanks. Detergent was sprayed continuously to disperse the slick, but it was like trying to hold back a tide that Canute would never even think possible.

Eventually the RAF and Royal Navy bombed it, using it as target practice. The idea was to burn the wreck and oil, still on the surface, as a final solution.

But beaches were left knee-deep in sludge and thousands of sea birds were killed in what remains the UK’s worst environmental accident and the minimal quantifiable cost, in other word insurance claim, was £14.24m, in today’s terms that would be some £249m. The losses were incurred on the hull, the cargo and the consequential losses a disaster can cause.

This massive claim threatened to put some Lloyds syndicates out of business as Lloyds always paid claims. If an individual Lloyds syndicate member, (a ‘name’),’ could not pay, their personal worth along with all those others who invested in the risk carrying syndicates were expected to pay. If you could not, your business was at severe, terminally and very legally seizable risk as were your personal assets and wealth, and all in cash.

Unlike IFAs their risk continued, a bit like PI today, for a specified policy period and a specified amount.

Matters were made worse because of a quirk in the risk assumption management and its spread.

Most syndicates would reinsure (spread) the risk on big bits of kit, like a tanker. A spread of risk with others who were not directly involved in insuring the vessel. But the complexity and size of the risk and the claim meant that reinsuring saw the risk spread back to the original insurer syndicates with the reinsurers reinsuring their risk.

Reminds me a bit of the 07/08 financial crisis, securitisation of mortgage debt bundles but not knowing what was in the bundle you brought. Reinsurance could be many layers deep.

As a disaster comparison in 2010 following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, insurers, Lloyd’s paid out over $600m.

So how does this connect with the problem?

Some thoughts for the FCA and HM Treasury.

Every regulated firm, there are some 50,000, of whatever type (from car finance, to pet insurance, to funeral plans, pensions providers, life insurers etc) should pay a simple percentage of turnover to the FCA each year as a new type of ‘all inclusive’ regulatory fee to cover ALL the cost of delivering regulation, FCA, FOS but not the FSCS as this idea would see their need removed, building, quickly, a financial services fund to pay for when things go wrong (similar to the Pension Protection Fund?).

The complete opposite of the polluter pays and in complete harmony with the Lloyds ethos of spreading the risk.

This clearly defined cash ocean is locked, and if need be in the beginning underwritten by the Treasury, rather like the FSCS is today.

It should not see HM Treasury doing a cash grab on surplus funds as it has done with fines. Build up surplus, rather like the three-year Lloyds accounting period before profits are realised and use that surplus to reduce the cost of regulation with fee and fine offsets.

This pool of cash would be to specifically deal with investigating consumer detriment for regulated products and advice only. Claims could only be arbitrated at minimal cost to either side by the FOS with the outcome being determined by the FOS with a low-cost form of independent appeal for each party.

The FOS should operate by assessing claims on the six years plus three rule, the basis of evidence available and/or the balance of probability and not by way of retrospection.

In the case of ‘guilt’ there should be an element of affordable excess and redress payable by the firm, again set as a percentage of turnover. This should mean that firms do not go out of business because of a claim or a claim against others.

There should be a very strict bad behaviour ‘two strikes and you are out’ standard or where redress amounts are above a certain level and you are out ruled out of further activities, possibly even first time.

Regulated advisers should only engage in regulated products.

There would be no need for individual PI as the FCA should/ could, rather like huge corporates, self-insure by way of the fund created and in the event of a ‘Torrey Canyon’ the FCA could have in place a reinsurance pool made up of many insurers, PI or otherwise to remove any doubts of being selected against.

Tear up the current protocols, the status quo needs something a bit different.

Let’s do a little maths:

  • In 2017 £22.1 billion of revenue was earned by retail intermediary firms in 2017 from insurance, investment and mortgage mediation activities, compared to £20 billion in 2016. Source FCA
  • Over £300 million was paid by firms in Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) premiums in 2017, Source FCA
  • The FSCS paid in claims to the year ended March 2017 £375,262,000 (£130,362,000 was recovered) source FSCS Financial review page 47
  • The biggest single cost to the FSCS in that year was £306,246 in interest source FSCS Financial review page 47
  • There are some 50,000 firms across many business areas that are registered with and regulated by the FCA

So, if every firm regulated by the FCA paid 0.20% of their turnover each year, based on the above numbers some £442m would initially be raised. There would be no need for PI cost and a sum could be set aside to reinsure easily covered within that 0.2% cost.

This thinking is not about presenting firms with a low-cost way to be reckless in their advice, it is not about bringing advice to the masses in its purest sense. But it is a starting point?

As the leading provider CEO further noted: Your suggested approach will only affect advisory firm behaviour materially if it leads to greater socialisation of all of the risks across the sector, and so reduces risk of ruin for advice firms.

The description of my thoughts as “socialisation” is very astute.

He did add a caveat that “this in turn runs the risk of too many firms taking higher risks because they don’t have to bear the brunt of their actions to the extent that they do today”.

But I beg to differ. Money is being made in the ‘industry of compensation’ that would be better used by ploughing it back to the pot, confidence would be restored, bad business put out of action very quickly and all that money saved on a firm level basis put to providing lower cost, easier access to advice, better regulated products and services created with foresight to ultimately benefit the consumer rather than hindsight to compensate them.

I hope that this very brief summary could be the basis of a new way to deal with compensation.

Just a thought.

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