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Clear answers from the regulator

The question and answer sections on the regulator’s website are valuable sources of regularly updated information for consumers and intermediaries, says Bill Warren

In a recent column I remarked that the frequently asked questions section in the mortgage part of the Financial Services Authority’s website for small firms could do with updating to make it more comprehensive. Shortly after this I was contacted by the FSA team that deals with small firms’ communications and education. Having read the remark in my Mortgage Strategy column, they asked for suggestions to make the small firms section more informative for users. They also pointed out the site is continually being updated with content including additional FAQs. This prompted me to revisit this part of the site and I can report it now contains a wealth of useful information.

One set of FAQs can be found on the ‘Contact us’ page via the link entitled ‘Top 20 most asked questions’. Another route to these general Q&As is via the ‘Small Firms’ section, in the ‘General information’ option. The 20 questions cover where forms can be located, how to cancel or vary permissions, reporting, fees, and much more. Following the Top 20 are links through to seven topics, each with their own substantial FAQs. These topics are supervision, prudential requirements, complaints, disclosure of authorised status, appointed representatives, senior management systems and controls, and integrated regulatory reporting. Another set of FAQs can be found on the Firms Online section of the website and, although not labelled as a set of FAQs the jargon-busting option within the ‘Small firms/General information’ section is well worth a visit.

FAQs specific to mortgage and general insurance firms can be found in the Small Firms section. Under general insurance there are five main groupings of FAQs under the headings of ICOB rules, training and competence for general insurance, passporting for insurers and intermediaries, renewals and customer money. Looking at just one of these topics – the ICOB rules – shows how useful these FAQs could be as a reminder about the basics of regulation.

They cover questions such as: “What are the rules and why do I need to comply with them?”; “How do I know if inducements are unfair or charges are excessive?”; “What should be in the statement of demands and need?”; and “Do I have to disclose my commission to retail customers?”.

There are 17 Q&As in the ICOB section alone, and this list is likely to grow as more regulated firms become familiar with using the FSA website interactively to ask their own questions – which, of course, also goes for all other groups of FAQs.

On the mortgage FAQs, the first option in the list of topics – MCOB rules and related matters – contains most of the meaty issues. With around 40 questions, this section covers the scope of regulation, advised and non-advised sales, Key Facts Illustrations, lifetime mortgages, financial promotions (including cold-calling), client money, and more. The answers are highly detailed, written in plain English, and contain references back to specific parts of the MCOB rules where relevant.

Some questions from the KFI section will illustrate how the FAQs really do go back to basics and make no assumptions about readers’ prior knowledge. Examples include: “Who is responsible for the accuracy of the KFI?”; “What commission payments and inducements must my firm disclose?”; and “Can a firm carry out a credit check… to provide a decision in principle before giving out a KFI?”. Of course, we should all know the answers to these, but it is reassuring that the correct answers are available online.

This brings us to the principle behind the development of these FAQs. This is that the FSA takes meaningful and relevant communication seriously and it intends its website to play a significant part in keeping consumers and regulated firms informed. If the volume and quality of information on the website is adequate and the information is relevant, inbound individual enquiries to the FSA’s contact team can be reduced.

Also, whenever a topic starts to gain momentum among the questions that are submitted, it can be added to the existing FAQs for the benefit of all. Feedback is welcomed and can be submitted on the feedback form that has recently been introduced onto the Small Firms section of the website. Alternatively, the email address for queries or suggestions is SmallFirmsCommunications@ fsa.gov.uk. Or, if you have other ideas you want to share, email me at mortgagestrategy.co.uk.

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