FCA proposes stricter rules for contract for difference products

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is today proposing stricter rules for firms selling ‘contract for difference’ (CFD) products to retail customers to improve standards across the sector and ensure consumers are appropriately protected.

Contracts for differences, such as spread bets and rolling spot foreign exchange products, are complex financial instruments offered by investment firms, often through online platforms. Following an increase in the number of firms in the CFD market, the FCA has concerns that more retail customers are opening and trading CFD products that they do not adequately understand. The FCA’s analysis of a representative sample of client accounts for CFD firms found that 82% of clients lost money on these products.

The FCA is therefore proposing a package of measures intended to enhance consumer protection by limiting the risks of CFD products and ensuring that customers are better informed. The new measures include:

  • Introducing standardised risk warnings and mandatory disclosure of profit-loss ratios on client accounts by all providers to better illustrate the risks and historical performance of these products.
  • Setting lower leverage limits for inexperienced retail clients who do not have 12 months or more experience of active trading in CFDs, with a maximum of 25:1.
  • Capping leverage at a maximum level of 50:1 for all retail clients and introducing lower leverage caps across different assets according to their risks. Some levels of leverage currently offered to retail customers exceed 200:1.
  • Preventing providers from using any form of trading or account opening bonuses or benefits to promote CFD products.

The FCA is also setting out its vision on a range of policy measures for binary bets that would complement existing conduct of business rules, once these products are brought into the FCA’s regulatory scope.

Christopher Woolard, Executive Director of Strategy and Competition said:

“We have serious concerns that an increasing number of retail clients are trading in CFD products without an adequate understanding of the risks involved, and as a result can incur rapid, large and unexpected losses. We are introducing stricter rules for CFD products to ensure the sector addresses the shortcomings identified, and that firms make sure that retail clients are aware of the high risks involved in trading these complex products.

“The FCA also has concerns that binary bets pose investor protection risks and question whether binary bets meet a genuine investment need.”

On-going supervision work by the FCA over the past six years has identified instances of poor conduct across the CFD sector. This includes firms failing to adequately consider if CFDs are appropriate for their customers, failing to provide adequate risk warnings, and firms offering excessive levels of leverage to retail clients.

The FCA has also observed that binary bets are not transparent enough for investors to adequately value them, and have product features which are more akin to gambling products than investments. 

The FCA’s proposed measures are intended to ensure an appropriate level of consumer protection. Several EU member states have already introduced restrictions on CFD retail products.

Notes to editors

  1. Consultation Paper (16/40): Enhancing conduct of business rules for firms providing contract for difference products to retail clients
  2. The FCA has conducted on-going supervision work since 2009 which has detected instances of poor conduct across the CFD sector. The FCA’s most recent work includes the Thematic Review (TR14/13) on Best execution and payment for order flow in 2014, and supervisory work in 2015 with subsequent feedback published in a Dear CEO letter in February 2016. 
  3. The FCA Handbook defines a retail client or customer as a client who is not a professional client or an eligible counterparty. Under our proposed rules, firms will be required to designate their client as ‘inexperienced’ or ‘experienced’ based on whether the client has 12 months or more experience trading CFD or similar products.  
  4. Financial products are leveraged when investors are only required to deposit a small percentage (margin) of the total amount of invested while the remainder of the investment is funded by a firm at a specified rate of interest.
  5. The FCA’s analysis of a representative sample of client accounts for CFD firms found that 82% of clients lose money on CFD products. Similar levels of poor client performance have also been observed in other European jurisdictions.
  6. On 1 April 2013, the FCA became responsible for the conduct supervision of all regulated financial firms and the prudential supervision of those not supervised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).
  7. The FCA has an overarching strategic objective of ensuring the relevant markets function well. To support this it has three operational objectives: to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers; to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system; and to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers.
  8. Find out more information about the FCA.