Six in the City – 31 March 2008

The FSA must work hard to ensure stability in the savings sector, says Laura Stavro-Beauchamp

Just look at that – the Financial Services Authority has accepted responsibility for the Northern Rock debacle.

Last week the regulator revealed that it had failed to keep tabs on the bank to ensure that its risks were being properly assessed.

But this mea culpa is balanced by a statement from Hector Sants, chief executive of the FSA. He’s unsure whether better supervision could have stopped the NR crisis.

But as Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor Vince Cable says, did the FSA have any choice?

The question now for everyone in the industry is where do we go from here? It’s a positive development that the regulator is assessing its role and admitting its shortcomings but is this going to boost confidence in the market?

Will this encourage savers to tuck their nest eggs away in the banks when the regulator arguably is unable to protect their money or guarantee the stability of the institutions involved?

I certainly hope so. After all, in these days of limited liquidity more savings can only be good news for lenders.

One only needs to turn on the television to see that banks are gearing up to fight for consumer savings business.

Abbey has launched a series of advertisements featuring a cape-wearing ISA squirrel and Barclays is toting its tax-haven ISA – a product that offers tax-free interest.

And with ISA policies flagged up by chancellor Alistair Darling in the Budget and credit horror stories popping up left, right and centre to scare the average punter to death, let’s hope the message starts to get through.

It may not be too optimistic to hope that consumers take the hint and put away their pennies for a rainy day.

The mortgage boom of the past four years has ended and savings have become more important.

Lenders are diversifying, consumers are wising up and the question facing brokers is how to make the best of the prevailing market conditions.

Can brokers get a slice of the savings pie? And will the FSA regulate it better so that it does not end up all over the face of Sants, Darling and Bank of England governor Mervyn King?

The tripartite authority has work to do.