FCA issues guidance on dealing with vulnerable customers

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published final guidance “clarifying its expectations” of firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.

The guidance aims to drive improvements in the way firms treat vulnerable consumers so that they are “consistently able to achieve outcomes that are as good as everybody else”.

The FCA’s recent Financial Lives research shows that 27.7 million adults in the UK now have “characteristics of vulnerability” such as poor health, experiencing negative life events, low financial resilience or low capability.

“Not all people with these characteristics will suffer harm, but they may limit people’s ability to make reasonable decisions or put them at greater risk of mis-selling,” said the FCA.

Firms should also be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. It is likely that a breach of the Equality Act, for example failure to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people, will also be a breach of the FCA’s rules.

The FCA said firms should understand what harms their customers are likely to be vulnerable to and ensure that customers in vulnerable circumstances can receive the same fair treatment and outcomes as other customers.

This needs to happen through the whole customer journey from product design through to customer engagement and communications, it said.

Nisha Arora, director of consumer and retail policy at the FCA, said: “Protecting vulnerable consumers remains a key focus for us and given the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic it is more important than ever that firms get this right.

“The guidance will help ensure vulnerable consumers are treated fairly and achieve outcomes as good as other consumers.”

Firms can expect to be asked to demonstrate how their business model, the actions they have taken and their culture ensure the fair treatment of all customers, including vulnerable customers, the FCA said.

The FCA has also published a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This MoU sets out how the FCA will co-operate and work with the EHRC on equalities issues, to help protect people in financial services markets.

Sharing information and expertise will help the EHRC and the FCA to act on equalities issues that arise.

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