01Mar

ICO imposes fine for nuisance calls related to life insurance

The Information Commissioner’s Office has fined a Nottingham-based marketing company £120,000 after it was found to have made 159,461 unsolicited direct marketing calls relating to life insurance. The calls continued over a five-month period between May and October 2019 and were all made to consumers who had registered with the Telephone Preference Service and should therefore not have received any marketing calls.

24Feb

Help To Buy Extended

The Help To Buy scheme in England has been extended by two months until May 31 2021, with the coronavirus pandemic estimated to have delayed construction of some new homes by as much as eight months. The extension only applies where an application is already in progress. 

31Dec

The risks firms might be incurring from remote working

Most financial firms have been forced to adapt to remote working this year. Regardless of the personal feelings of firms’ senior managers about how practical it might be, it isn’t really something about which they have had much choice. Aside from the natural instinct to minimise the Covid risk to staff and customers, the Government and Financial Conduct Authority have both said that staff should only be working in business premises where it is not possible for them to work from home.

In the longer term, even if the wider world returns to normal, there are indications that more firms will choose to offer home working to their staff, at least for part of their working week.

With the increase in home working though comes an increase in various risks. The FCA expects all authorised firms to manage risks on a continuous basis, which means thinking about the adverse events that could occur, how likely these events are to occur, how significant an impact the event would have, and how the risks can be mitigated.

Are the external devices staff are using at home protected to the same extent as the PCs they might use in the office?

Firms should emphasise to their staff the importance of keeping company information secure when at home. This means that they should lock their screens when they leave them, so that people they live with can’t see them. If they are in a video conference or similar, ideally they should go somewhere quiet where they are less likely to be disturbed and where someone is less likely to walk in and hear what is being discussed. Any device issued to staff for home working should not be used for personal matters, for example social chats, watching TV and video content, web surfing, personal Office files.

Remember that firms are still required to monitor their staff while they work from home. The rules remain unchanged and several FCA speakers have stressed this point recently. Senior managers need to have systems in place to ensure performance monitoring continues. For example, many firms have put in place arrangements to allow call centres to operate from employees’ personal phones, but are these calls still being recorded and listened to?

Also don’t forget the physical security of office premises, especially if there’s no one working there for long periods at a time. In these circumstances, is there any need for any valuable items to be left there?

Finally, to get the best out of staff, firms need to remain mindful of their welfare. At the time of writing, 99% of people in England cannot socialise indoors with people outside their household or support bubble, as a result of Tier 2 and 3 restrictions. If firms have asked staff to work from home, then by definition they won’t be meeting their colleagues either. Are there ways firms can maintain virtual social contact between employees?

11Dec

Senior Managers and Certification Regime “SM&CR”

The onset of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime “SM&CR” was one of the largest regulatory changes for solo regulated firms the financial services sector has seen for some time. On December 9th 2019, the first part of the SM&CR took effect, with firms being required to implement the necessary changes. Fast forward to December 2020, firm’s should have implemented the second stage of the SM&CR, however, COVID19 has significantly effected many firms ability to do this. The FCA recognised this and has extended the deadline to implement phase two of the SM&CR up to the 31st March 2021.

What do firm’s need to do in order to implement phase two of the SM&CR?

Conduct rules training

Firms subject to the FCA’s SM&CR are required to ensure they provide all their employees with training on the FCA’s “Conduct Rules” on at least an annual basis.  With the first anniversary of the implementation of the regime for FCA solo-regulated firms now upon us, it’s likely that many firms will need to carry out this annual training in order to ensure their employees understand what the Conduct Rules mean for them and to enable the firm to meet this important regulatory obligation.

One important thing that every firm must be mindful of is that if a firm does not provide training on the Conduct Rules to its employees then the firm itself can be held liable if there are mass breaches of the Conduct Rules – act now to avoid being culpable for something you didn’t even know you could be culpable for.

Ensuring training is meaningful, relevant and effective can be a challenging at the best of times, and with the current working environment, with many people still working remotely is likely to make the task even more difficult than normal.

Scott Robert can help.  We have considerable experience of delivering training sessions to employees within regulated financial services businesses covering a wide range of topics, including Conduct Rules. Our sessions can be delivered remotely via a Zoom meeting or through “Teams”, with the content both shared on screen during the session and made available to attendees after the session.  Content can be tailored so as to make it relevant for your business, with examples of good and poor conduct that are specific to the types of products and services you provide, and our sessions are always structured and delivered in such a way as to encourage engagement and questions from attendees.

For more information, or to arrange a training session for your employees, please contact us on 0161 914 5757.

Wider SMCR topics

Although the implementation of the SM&CR happened for FCA solo-regulated firms was nearly a year ago, firms subject to the regime will be aware that there are further deadlines approaching in respect of the certification of employees and the reporting of information to the FCA for the new “directory”, and that the regime imposes ongoing “maintenance” obligations on firms, including:

  • ensuring they carry out periodic checks of fitness and propriety for Senior Managers and that their “Statements of Responsibility” are accurate and up to date;
  • reviewing the apportionment of responsibilities amongst Senior Managers, including both business responsibilities and “prescribed responsibilities”; and
  • providing annual conduct rules training for all employees other than “ancillary staff”.

With the FCA likely to be checking firms’ compliance with the new requirements, and with an increasing regulatory focus on conduct and standards of behaviour, there is no room for complacency and firms need to ensure they have taken the necessary steps to comply with the obligations.

Scott Robert can help.  Our experienced team of consultants can provide support by:

 

  • reviewing existing governance and Senior Manager arrangements and benchmarking against regulatory requirements and industry best practice
  • assisting in the design and implementation of appropriate and compliance policies and processes around the certification of employees and reviewing existing policies around fitness and propriety
  • delivering conduct rules (and other) training to employees, ensuring this is relevant to your business.

For more information and to find out how Scott Robert can help your business to meet its regulatory obligations, contact us on

Quick Check

Scott Robert has provided a quick check below to see if you are ready for phase two implementation:

  • Have you trained your staff on the Conduct Rules?
  • Have you certified your relevant staff for fitness and propriety?
  • Have your SMF approved senior managers been assessed for fitness and propriety?
  • Have you reviewed your SMF approved senior managers’ statement of responsibility?
  • Have you submitted your Directory information to the FCA?

If you haven’t done any of the above, and need the assistance of Scott Robert Compliance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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