FSA unveils draft rules on depolarisation

The Financial Services Authority yesterday published Consultation Paper 166 setting out the detail of how it proposes to abolish the polarisation regime for those advising on packaged product business.

The FSA board&#39s decision to abolish polarisation was announced on November 21 2002 following lengthy consultation.

David Severn, head of retail projects at the FSA, says: “The new regime is aimed at increasing choice for the vast majority of consumers for whom the polarisation regime we inherited has denied such choice. It takes nothing away from those who already have access to independent advice.

“Polarisation has failed to deliver the benefits that were hoped for when it was introduced. Our proposals will most benefit the average consumer whose financial needs do not lead them to consult independent financial advisers but who nonetheless deserve better access to advice on suitable products and greater choice.”

CP166 proposes that:

• Firms currently restricted to selling just one company&#39s productsto customers will in future be able to offer their customers more choice;

• Firms which wish to continue to hold themselves out as independent can do so provided they both advise from across the market and offer their customers the option to pay by fee;

• Abolition of the polarisation regime means that firms must clearly explain to consumers what the scope of advice or service they are offering is. This will be achieved through a new specific initial disclosure document; rules about disclosure in advertising and on stationery, backed up by a consumer education campaign.

As part of its campaign the FSA intends to include consumer alerts on the Consumer Help part of its website; use leaflets, press activity and joint campaigns with organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and through the Post Office. Firms may be encouraged to send approved literature to consumers explaining the charges that have been made. All of this can also be used to support the introduction of the specific initial disclosure document which, along with certain other FSA required documents, will be recognisable by the &#39Key Facts&#39 logo.

• The so-called “better-than-best” rule will be abolished. This rule effectively prevents an independent intermediary firm fromrecommending a product from any provider which owns 10% or more of the firm. Abolition of the rule will mean that independent firms will be free to attract investment to increase their financial strength. There will be safeguards in place to ensure that such investment does not undermine the independence of a firm.

• The FSA will continue with the present requirement that appointed representatives must, for investment business purposes, have a single principal. This is to secure clear lines of accountability and responsibility for an appointed representative&#39s advice. However, for those appointed representatives who do no more than introduce customers to an authorised firm it is scrapping the single principal rule.

Removal of the polarisation restrictions is not likely to take effect until late 2003 or early 2004.