Sensitive business names

You need to get a view from the FCA and consent from the Secretary of State to use a business name containing certain sensitive words relating to financial services. Find out about these words and how to apply for permission to use them here.

Using certain sensitive words related to financial services in a business name may give a misleading indication of what a business does. Businesses must seek a view from the FCA before trading under or registering a business name containing these sensitive words. This applies to use of these words in any business name, even if you are not a financial services firm.

The main legislation concerning sensitive business names is the Companies Act 2006 and the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2014.

Businesses that were lawfully trading under a sensitive name before 1 October 2009 are generally allowed to continue to use that name.  

List of sensitive terms

If you plan on using one of the following words (including their plural and possessive forms) in your business name, you must get our consent first:

  • assurance
  • assurer
  • banc
  • bank
  • banking
  • building society
  • cooperative and community benefit societies
  • credit union
  • friendly society
  • fund
  • industrial and provident society
  • insurance
  • insurer
  • mutual
  • reassurance
  • reassurer
  • reinsurance
  • reinsurer
  • underwrite
  • underwriting

Companies House will also usually direct applicants seeking to use the sensitive terms ‘stock exchange’, ‘unit trust’ and ‘co-operative’ (if the business relates to financial services) to contact the FCA for our view. Business names suggesting a connection with the FCA also require our view. 

It is an offence to trade under a business name containing a sensitive word without getting permission. The business committing the offence (and individuals running the business) may be liable to a penalty.

Using the FCA’s name in a business name

Business cannot register or trade under a name that may give the impression of a connection with the FCA unless such use has been approved. This generally means that business names incorporating the FCA’s name (either in full or the acronym) require our prior consent and approval from Companies House, as with other sensitive words or expressions. Business names that do not incorporate the FCA’s name but which use other words that suggest a connection with the FCA may still breach this statutory prohibition.

Applying for consent to use a sensitive name

Before registering a company name, changing an existing business name or beginning trading under a business name containing a sensitive word or expression, please:

If you are a financial services firm that is not yet authorised, we suggest that you register an alternative name with Companies House before applying to the FCA or the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) for firm authorisation. After we have granted firm authorisation, you can apply to us to change the registered name to one that contains a sensitive word.

We aim to make a decision within 10 business days of receiving your application. Please note, the 10 business days SLA is voluntary and if we are experiencing an increase in applications or the application is of a complex nature the SLA may increase beyond 10 business days.

How we assess your sensitive name application

We will base our decision on whether there is a risk that the public may be misled or harmed by the use of a sensitive word or expression.

We will consider the activities the business intends to carry out. Sensitive words relating to financial services are generally associated with specific regulated activities or financial institutions. Using them tends to indicate that the business is subject to FCA or PRA rules and/or that there may be other regulatory safeguards in place, such as coverage by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme or access to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

This means that using a financial services-related sensitive word in a business name will normally be reserved for currently authorised firms or those firms’ appointed representatives, as well as businesses that have no connection to financial services, as long as the proposed name is reasonable and appropriate.

The sensitive word used in a name should reflect the regulated activities that the business is authorised to carry out. For example, a business wishing to use the word ‘insurer’ in its name will usually be expected to hold permission for one or more relevant insurance-related regulated activities. If that business is an insurance intermediary, we expect it to add appropriate qualifiers to its name, such as ‘services’, ‘consultants’, ‘brokers’, or ‘solutions’. Where the sensitive name relates to a specific company type or business structure (for example, ‘friendly society’ or ‘credit union’), we will not usually grant consent unless the applicant can demonstrate that their business comprises that type or structure.

Changes in circumstances

Our view on any application for use of a sensitive word or expression is based on the information provided by the applicant and granted on the understanding that the information is accurate and will remain accurate. The applicant is in effect providing an ongoing undertaking or assurance for that information.

If there is a significant change in circumstances which means the information provided at the time of the application is no longer accurate (for example, a significant change in the scope of a business’s activities or a change of legal status), you must promptly make a fresh application to use  the word or expression. You should also consider stopping use of the sensitive business word or expression in the meantime. Failure to do so may be regarded as a breach of the sensitive business names legislation.

Change of name for regulated businesses

To change a registered name:

  1. Apply for the FCA’s consent to use a sensitive business term
  2. Change the registered name at Companies House
  3. Submit a firm details notification via our Connect system
  4. For Appointed Representatives – instruct principal firm to submit a firm details notification via Connect

To change a trading name:

  1. Apply for the FCA’s consent to use a sensitive business term
  2. Once confirmation of consent is received, check the update is reflected on the Financial Services Register

Process for Appointed Representatives

We would normally only grant consent to the use of a sensitive term where the business in question can demonstrate that it has a valid agreement to act as an Appointed Representative for an authorised firm for the activities to which the sensitive name or expression relates.

Your principal should have submitted the appropriate Appointed Representative notification through the Connect system confirming your appointment.

Consent for Appointed Representative firms will be conditional on the continued existence of the Appointed Representative relationship with a suitably authorised principal firm. If any of the following events take place, our consent will no longer be valid and the Appointed Representative firm will need to change its name and stop using the sensitive term:

  • the Appointed Representative agreement is rescinded
  • the principal stops being an authorised firm
  • the principal’s Part 4A permissions change such that the Appointed Representative can no longer carry out the activities indicated by the sensitive term

This is not an exhaustive list and we reserve the right to conclude that it may be inappropriate for an Appointed Representative to use a sensitive name for other reasons, depending on circumstances.

Sensitive name appeals process

You may request a review of our decision. We have an internal review process, whereby a suitably senior member of staff who was not involved with the initial decision will review the request and decide whether the initial decision was correct or whether a different outcome should have been reached.

If you would like to request a review, please either:

Please title your correspondence ‘Appeal – (proposed business name)’.