New FSA banking regulation aims to promote fairness for consumers

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LONDON - The Financial Services Authority (FSA) will take over all retail banking conduct regulation for deposit taking and payment services in November 2009.

Currently, the Banking Code Standards Board (BCSB) monitors and enforces voluntary Banking Codes that govern banks' day-to-day relationships with their customers. But from November, these arrangements will be replaced by new FSA rules that all banks, building societies and credit unions must follow.

Notable changes for consumers will include the requirement to provide a prompt and efficient service to help customers switch accounts. This would apply more widely than the commitments in the banking codes, for example to cash ISAs, where the FSA has seen delays in the past. So when it comes to switching, customers will be able to have their transfer completed promptly - no matter what type of account.

Another key area is the provision of information. Currently, some informative material about a bank's products and services must be communicated to people once they become customers. The new FSA rules will require this information to be available at the point when people really need it - when they are making the decision whether or not to become a customer. The rules, the FSA hopes, will help consumers make informed and timely decisions, enabling them to both choose the best account for them, and know how to use their account most effectively.

The FSA will also ensure that the quality of customer service is maintained long after becoming a new customer. A new rule will mean service must remain prompt, efficient and fair for the duration of the relationship. Firms will also need to comply with an explicit requirement to treat customers fairly, including when dealing with customers in financial difficulty and when processing payments.

The greater enforcement powers of the FSA, when compared with the BCSB, will also have a deterrent effect that was missing in the Codes. The FSA can, and will where appropriate, fine firms if they fail to comply with the new rules to the detriment of their customers.

Commenting on the changes, Jon Pain, FSA retail managing director said: "These are important new standards that firms will need to meet. They will affect consumers' everyday interaction with banks.
"Before the new rules come into force, the FSA will publish comprehensive information for consumers detailing their rights and outlining what they can expect from their banking provider."

The new banking rules will sit alongside those of the Payment Services Regulations, the European legislation designed to harmonise the standards of customer service for all payment transactions throughout the European Union.

Areas of retail banking that fall outside the FSA's remit, such as overdrafts and credit card lending, will continue to be regulated under the Consumer Credit Act.

The new Banking Conduct of Business sourcebook (BCOBS) is detailed in the Policy Statement, which can be found here.

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