When consumers contact us, they can often be in distress. They may need to report a suspected scam, check whether a firm is authorised (or not), or find out where to go if something’s gone wrong with a financial service.
As a regulator, one of our core objectives is to protect consumers. But with many struggling to pay bills, and scammers often targeting the most vulnerable, our approach had to evolve. We had to address the challenges consumers are experiencing and make sure people feel comfortable and confident coming to us.
Our drive to engage more directly with consumers has not only been an organisational priority, but also a vocational pull for me. My mother was scammed. She lost money, was very upset and felt foolish, blaming herself in spite of the fact that the scam was so sophisticated it was very hard to spot.
Like my mother, consumers are being scammed, taking risks unknowingly and being treated unfairly. We need to help them understand risks, their rights and responsibilities, and where to go for help. It’s up to us to protect and empower consumers – and what a great reason to go to work in the morning.
A new consumer service
The FCA is transforming, and part of that transformation is the new consumer section of our website, which we launched this March. It’s the result of extensive research into how and why consumers engage with us, what we can offer them, and how we can do better.
When consumers come to our website, it’s often when something has gone wrong. So, it’s important we give them the information they need to help them resolve their issue. And it’s vital that we do so in a clear, accessible, and sensitive way.
Yet a previous review of our channels revealed that consumers were often overwhelmed with the site, and unclear where to start to find the information they needed.
As one user put it: ‘It doesn’t feel like the website has been designed for people like me.’
To address this, we took a forensic look at what we communicate to consumers. We looked at the subjects we should be covering, and the subjects that were better covered by members of the regulatory family.
Our new section doesn’t try to engage consumers on all financial matters, we’re not a financial educator. Instead, it’s streamlined to focus on the ‘5 Rs’:
- Risks: We want to help consumers identify and avoid unwanted risks, and understand what those risks mean for them.
- Rights: We want to make sure consumers understand their rights, and what they should expect from firms.
- Remedies: If something does go wrong, we want to make sure consumers know how to complain and claim compensation if their provider goes out of business.
- Rule changes: Where consumers are affected by our rule changes, we want to make it completely clear when they need to act.
- Reporting: If they suspect a scam, or have experienced poor conduct, we want to encourage consumers to report to us.
Getting our tone and language right
We’re providing a service for people who could be in distress, so we must try to make any interactions as stress-free as possible.
- writing clearly and accessibly about technical subjects
- not overwhelming readers with details they don’t need
- being approachable and acknowledging when consumers might be feeling under pressure or concerned
- making sure we signpost where they should turn to for help
We avoid jargon, and where we have to include a technical term, we describe what it means. Not only on the page, but we’ve also introduced a new A-Z glossary of financial terms, with quick definitions and external links to the regulatory family.
The right place for the right information
Directing consumers to the right place for the right information is a central part of our strategy.
We know that awareness of the regulatory family is low. Consumers don’t understand our role and how we work with MoneyHelper, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the Financial Ombudsman Service.
People are confused about what ‘FCA authorised’ means and they don’t always know where to go for help. In 2021, some 24,000 calls to the FCA were referred to other organisations to resolve.
Our new filter is one step we’re taking to address this. It aims to help guide users through our web pages, directing them to the information they need. And when we aren’t the right organisation to help, we explain why and signpost consumers to the right place.
Transforming how we engage with consumers
We know from our research that consumers feel financial services are too opaque, complex and difficult to navigate.
We want consumers to understand their rights and feel empowered to hold the firms we regulate to account. Our new consumer section will be a key resource they can draw on, and we welcome ideas on how we can keep improving our service. You can leave any feedback using the form below.