Investment firms accused of ‘box-ticking’ on consumer protection

Report finds several firms were not abiding by rules that products must be appropriate for buyers

The Central Bank of Ireland. “Firms are obliged at all times to act in the best interest of consumers, and the findings of this inspection show that this key component of the rules protecting consumers is not being fully complied with in several firms”

The Central Bank of Ireland. “Firms are obliged at all times to act in the best interest of consumers, and the findings of this inspection show that this key component of the rules protecting consumers is not being fully complied with in several firms”

 

Firms are placing undue reliance upon standardised questionnaires and “box-ticking” to demonstrate compliance with rules that they must protect consumers when selling complex investment products, a Central Bank of Ireland report has found.

The Central Bank has published the findings of a thematic inspection of investment firms’ compliance with their legal requirements to determine whether a product is appropriate for their customers.

The appropriateness requirements are a key protection for consumers at the point of sale when purchasing complex investment products without financial advice or a recommendation.

Firms are required to gather and assess information on the consumer’s knowledge and experience in order to determine whether the product is appropriate for them. If the product is not appropriate they must issue a clear warning to the consumer.

The regulator said several firms failed to provide evidence that they were paying sufficient attention to the application of the appropriateness requirements, instead placing “undue reliance” upon standardised questionnaires and “box-ticking to demonstrate compliance”.

In many cases firms’ practical application of the requirements was “undermined by weak processes, systems, and controls; resulting in errors and assessments proceeding with incomplete information”.

“Many firms are relying on a blanket approach for gathering client information that fails to consider the significant differences in risk and complexity that occurs between investment products,” the report noted. “Firms need to improve the quality of information collected.”

In many cases it was not clear how firms reached the appropriateness decision.

The review found evidence of inadequate and weak warnings issued where products were found to be inappropriate for clients, including the use of vague ambiguous language.

“The appropriateness warning should not be viewed by firms as a disclaimer which overrides the legal obligations of firms to act in the best interests of the consumer,” said the Central Bank. “The Central Bank is engaging directly with those firms where issues have arisen.”

Critical

Central Bank director of consumer protection Gráinne McEvoy said correct application of the appropriateness requirements was “critical” to ensuring consumers make an informed investment decision.

“Firms are obliged at all times to act in the best interest of consumers, and the findings of this inspection show that this key component of the rules protecting consumers is not being fully complied with in several firms.

“The Central Bank is now engaging directly with the firms concerned to address the shortcomings that have been identified. The appropriateness test is a key component of consumer protection for people who are using the services of an investment firm, and we want to ensure these rules are being complied with in spirit as well as in law.”