Thursday, 8 July 2010

Financial Services Becoming Less Fair

The Financial Services Consumer Panel, an independent statutory consumer body, reports that "Financial services compare poorly to the retail sector, with consumers considering financial services as less fair, being insufficiently competitive or accessible." The report cites product complexity and "loss of personalised individual service" as among the causes for the poor rating.

The downsides of the shift away from relationship banking to transactional, 'technology-mediated' relationships were also highlighted in research findings amongst low income earners presented to Financial Services Research Forum summer seminar this week, by Angela Sasse, a Professor of Human-Centred Technology at University College London, and Hazel Lacohée, Principal Researcher at BT Innovate and Design. Their work is part of the Privacy Value Networks research project (I am on the advisory board). Hazel ended here presentation with a list of features that would make financial services more useful to low income earners, including:
  • basic bank accounts with standing order capability and separate sections for priority payments,
  • alerts when accounts fall below agreed levels and
  • loans and withdrawals in very small amounts.
At the same seminar, I asked Lesley Titcomb, acting COO of the Financial Services Authority, whether she thought that consumers need to become more adept at deciphering product offers and literature or that products should be made simpler and more usable. She said that the FSA favours the latter, and is switching away from an emphasis on greater disclosure (which requires the consumer to read more stuff) and examining how the regulator can be more involved in product design and marketing strategy to achieve transparency and fairness. However, Lesley noted that the European Commission still seems to favour greater disclosure as a regulatory tool.

Let's hope the new Consumer Protection and Markets Authority also favours simpler, more useable products rather than leaving consumers to work through all the mumbo jumbo.

Image from Kommein.
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