The Financial Conduct Authority has issued its Annual Report, looking back on the 12 months to March 31 2021.

This period is likely to be remembered forever as the year of Covid-19. In his foreword, chairman Charles Randell says that the FCA “prioritised protecting vulnerable people”. At the regulator’s direction, 4.5 million mortgage and consumer credit customers received payment deferrals in the early stages of the pandemic.

In a year when the FCA’s own research showed that the majority of UK adults now display one or more characteristics of vulnerability, the regulator says it wishes to deliver “a practical shift in firms’ actions and behaviour” and that:

“It seeks to drive improvements in the way firms treat vulnerable consumers throughout the whole consumer journey, from product design to customer service, so that they have outcomes as good as those of other consumers.”

1,293 new enforcement cases were opened in 2020/21 and fines totalling £189.8 million were imposed on authorised firms and individuals. This included the largest fine to date for consumer credit misconduct, when a bank was fined £26 million over its treatment of customers in arrears. As evidence of its tough oversight of firms, the report also states that one in six (16%) of applications for authorisation were either refused or were withdrawn because the applicant firm was unable to meet the FCA’s requirements.

Pension transfer advice has been one of the FCA’s biggest concerns for some time. In the report, it notes that the number of clients advised to transfer out of a DB pension fell from 69% to 57% over the course of the year.

2020/21 was also the year of Brexit, in the sense that an exit deal was finally agreed in December. The FCA says it has applied its Temporary Transitional Power widely, giving firms time to adapt to Brexit-related changes to regulatory requirements.

The FCA is seeking to use data to become a more efficient regulator, and to help it intervene faster where it sees evidence of consumer harm. The Report says of its Covid response that “our work during this time shows what we can achieve when we move quickly to address risk of consumer harm.”