Christopher Woolard spoke about “a new model for financial regulation in the UK” when he delivered his final speech as the Financial Conduct Authority’s interim chief executive. Nikhil Rathi has now started work as the regulator’s permanent CEO, while Mr Woolard concentrates on his new role leading a review of unsecured credit regulation.

Addressing the 10th Annual International Financial Services Forum in late September 2020, Mr Woolard began by suggesting that Covid-19 would accelerate some trends that were already evident prior to the pandemic, including:

  • The decline of the high street and town and city centres
  • The differences between the financial situations faced by different generations
  • A reduction in job security
  • An increased reliance on technology

Concerning the last of these, he commented on the need to ensure that people who might be uncomfortable using technology do not become excluded from financial services.

Mr Woolard then remarked that there had been “a real difference in terms of impact on the haves and have-nots in this crisis that doesn’t conform to the patterns of previous economic shocks”. While some consumers had been able to reduce their debts and build up their savings, others were very badly affected by the pandemic and had been forced to rely on special forbearance measures from their credit providers – measures which firms were compelled to offer following the intervention of the FCA.

The FCA chief executive then turned to his new role as head of the unsecured credit review task force, and suggested that the current demand for credit was being addressed by new product innovations, such as “the growth of unregulated products in retail and the workplace”. These unregulated products will be one of the main areas of focus in Mr Woolard’s review.

In the next section of the speech, Mr Woolard acknowledged that the FCA itself needed to change. He spoke of the way the regulator hopes to make better use of data in the future;  and also acknowledged that there could be “painful lessons” ahead, when the results into some investigations of potential failures of the regulatory system are published in the coming months.

Finally, he spoke of some issues affecting the future of regulation, including:

  • The need for the FCA to work closely with other regulators and agencies
  • A desire to make the requirements for regulated firms more straightforward
  • Whether the FCA Handbook remains effective
  • The challenges posed by Brexit

 

In conclusion, Mr Woolard said:

“As I step down as interim chief executive and away from the FCA board, I recognise the scale of the challenge for the FCA.

“I’ve served with some exceptional colleagues and the FCA is lucky to have them. We’ve changed and improved many things about how we work, including in the last six months as we sought to protect markets and millions of consumers.

“But the FCA finds itself – like the industry it regulates, like the society it regulates on behalf of, and the polity its regime is designed by – at a crossroads.

“The coronavirus emergency, business models, technology and consumer expectations are coming together to pose a series of dilemmas that society, business and regulators will need to tackle.

“As, if it does, the FCA must look ahead to the future but also behind it to take lessons from its past.”

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