It is timely that in Mental Health Awareness Week, the Treasury Committee has published its Report on consumers' access to financial services. The inquiry was set up to assess, in broad terms, the provision of financial services to vulnerable customers (including older or visually-impaired customers), the accessibility of these services in practice and their costs. In its summary, the Report states that "[access] to financial services and financial inclusion are issues of fundamental importance…Everyone can be vulnerable at some point, so financial inclusion matters to everybody, not just the disadvantaged."
Amongst a number of interesting findings about how vulnerable customers use financial services, or in some cases, may be precluded from using them, the Committee concluded that a legal duty of care may be necessary. It also indicated that the FCA's current reliance on banks observing the Treating Customers Fairly principle in this context was not sufficient without specific benchmarks or guidance.
The Committee found that all retail financial service providers should always be acting in their customers' best interests, but that they are not currently required to do so. The Committee reported that if the FCA cannot enforce such behaviour, the Committee would support a legal duty of care, creating a legal obligation for firms to act in their customers' best interests. This was notwithstanding the contrary position of the FCA, as set out in its feedback statement on its Duty of Care Position Statement, published in April. It has instructed the FCA to complete its consultation on the Duty of Care "swiftly by Autumn 2019".
The Chair of the Committee said: "It can no longer be an option for banks to ignore financial inclusion".