Financial promotions data 2023


INSIGHT
Published
Feb 14th '24
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The Duty is a significant shift in FCA expectations:

 

  • setting higher standards of protection for financial services customers
  • with a new Consumer Principle that requires firms to act and deliver good outcomes for retail customers

 

These rules require firms to put consumers at the heart of their business, produce products and services that are designed to meet customers’ needs, and provide fair value. Firms are required to help customers achieve their financial objectives, and not cause them any harm. Firms are also required to consider the needs, characteristics, and objectives of their customers – including those with characteristics of vulnerability – and how they behave, at every stage of the customer journey.

 

During 2023 the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also introduced: new rules for firms promoting high-risk investments, the referral fee ban on debt packager firms and the Cryptoasset financial promotions regime.

 

This data provides an overview of how the FCA has worked, and continue to work, to improve and raise standards across the market; so that consumers are provided with clear, fair and not misleading financial promotions to enable them to make an informed decision before parting with their money. It brings together the data and themes reported in the quarterly financial promotions’ publications during 2023.

 

The FCA expect firms to read this and take necessary steps to ensure they deliver good consumer outcomes. The regulator will continue to intervene where they identify authorised and unauthorised firms and/or individuals causing consumer harm.

1. Key messages

  • In 2023 the FCA continued to increase intervention activity in response to poor financial promotions compliance in authorised firms and activity involving unauthorised firms and individuals.
  • For authorised firms, following intervention, last year 10,008 promotions amended/withdrawn which is an increase of 16.6%, compared to 8,582 in 2022.
  • FCA has accepted voluntary requirements from 18 firms and used their own initiative powers on 1 firm restricting its ability to communicate or approve financial promotions.
  • For unauthorised firms and individuals, issued 2,285 alerts in 2023, an increase of 21% from 1,882 in 2022.
  • FCA remain concerned about the levels of compliance with the financial promotions rules.

 

 

 

 

2. FCA work

Trends and themes identified and action taken

As reported last year, the FCA continue to see an increase in the number of bloggers and influencers (finfluencers) on social media promoting financial products, particularly investment products, to younger age groups. They also saw an ongoing trend in the number of bloggers promoting credit on behalf of unauthorised third parties, with a particular growth in financial promotions targeting students. In response:

 

  • Where they have identified an unlawful promotion, while the FCA has no powers to require sites to be taken down, but continue to request that the platform hosting the harmful content removes it. FCA make these requests to all major social media companies, including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.  The FCA has developed similar arrangements with App stores to disrupt illegal financial promotions.
  • The FCA has increased capability to search across all social media to identify illegal financial promotions faster and in larger volumes. Given the large number of illegal promotions the regulator continues to identify, the expectation is that every social media platform improves their capability to identify and remove illegal financial promotions on a proactive basis. So, they’re continuing engagement with them and proactive searches across all platforms to identify and seek to remove the illegal content.
    • In April 2023 working with the Advertising Standards Authority, the FCA released an infographic to educate finfluencers about their legal obligations when seeking to promote financial services and products, urging them to think carefully before promoting through their social media channels to avoid placing illegal promotions, which could amount to a criminal offence. This infographic was released to provide guidance to potential finfluencers. Sharon Gaffka, a previous Love Island contestant with a social media following of approximately 526,000, promoted the infographic on her Instagram and TikTok accounts and spoke about her journey as an influencer and the value of the new guidance. This received high levels of engagement and positive press coverage welcoming the FCA working in a different way to educate the industry.
    • This was followed up with roundtable events for agents of finfluencers and their trade association to share the infographic with industry stakeholders that may be able to prevent consumer harm at source.
    • They continue to work with other regulators, social media platforms and trade bodies to better educate finfluencers about their obligations. In the most serious of cases, the FCA will issue consumer warnings about finfluencers, take down illegal content and refer finfluencers for criminal investigation.

 

Rising cost of living

With the continued rising cost of living,  the FCA has been focusing attention on unauthorised firms that appear to be looking to capitalise on the trend in consumers seeking debt advice, debt solutions and loans. This includes firms straying beyond the provision of information and lead generation into providing debt advice. They’ve seen an increase in the use of TikTok and sponsored advertising to attract vulnerable consumers to engage in discussions on managing debt. Consumers are then typically steered towards an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) solution that may not be suitable to their circumstances, and in some cases, unauthorised firms are going further in engaging (or falsely claiming to engage) directly with creditors or lenders on behalf of consumers to negotiate their debts.

 

Over the course of 2023, where the FCA identified unauthorised activity relating to debt solutions, they engaged with 43 unauthorised firms and issued 30 alerts, including requesting website and/or social media account suspension where appropriate. They’ve also engaged other regulators where applicable. FCA work remains ongoing, and will continue to work to prevent serious harm to consumers in this area. The FCA will take relevant enforcement action in the most sustained and extreme cases.

 

Examples of FCA interventions

 

2.1. Reducing and preventing serious harm

Proactive action, monitoring new websites

FCA continue to use various tools to proactively identify websites and social media that promote financial services without appropriate authorisation. They’ve scanned around 140,000 websites which resulted in just over 4,700 websites and social media platforms being reviewed. This led to 1,549 alerts being issued and following requests approximately 538 of the offending websites were taken down.

 

Previous applicant firms

Reviewed 350 firms who had previously applied to the FCA for authorisation but had later withdrawn or had their application rejected. Identified 24 of these firms had active websites promoting products and services without appropriate permission. Through intervention and correspondence with firms, identified that most of these firms had created websites in anticipation of becoming authorised. Firms duly removed or amended their websites to ensure compliance with Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA).

 

Linked companies at UK Companies House

Identified a small network of 5 firms and linked websites registering themselves with UK Companies House using a residential location in Greater London. All these firms’ websites were in breach of s21 of FSMA. From this work, the FCA conducted further research and analysis to identify the network had expanded to over 90 UK registered firms at the same residential location. They also identified an increased number of live websites presenting the same s21 FSMA concerns and issued 11 alerts to the FCA Warning list and requesting suspension of the infringing websites.

 

Taking action against unauthorised business

In 2023, 24,865 reports were received about potential unauthorised business. Where the FCA identify sufficient and credible evidence of a breach of legislation, the matter is escalated to enable more detailed enquiries. The most serious cases are referred to Enforcement and Markets Oversight Division for investigation. The FCA also capture relevant intelligence, issue alerts on their website to warn consumers about concerns at the earliest opportunity and make referrals to specialist teams, law enforcement agencies and other regulators where appropriate to facilitate wider action.

 

2.2. Setting and testing higher standards

 

To ensure consumers are protected from financial promotions that are misleading, unclear, or unfair there have been several recent, and forthcoming, changes to strengthen the financial promotions regime.

New regulation

 

Cryptoasset financial promotions regime

In June 2023 the FCA published its Policy Statement, PS23/6, following the government legislating to bring the promotion of cryptoassets within their remit. The rules came into force on 8 October 2023; however, firms had the option of applying for a modification by consent to delay the implementation of the requirements for the ‘back end’ rules until 8 January 2024.

 

The FCA has engaged in a variety of actions to test firms’ compliance with the ‘front end’ rules. Where firms are engaging with the FCA in good faith with a view to achieving compliance, they’ve taken a proportionate approach to implementation. But in the case of non-compliance, FCA has taken robust and assertive action to protect consumers.

 

They’ve conducted reviews of 44 crypto firms registered with us for anti-money laundering purposes and unregistered firms whose promotions have been approved by an FCA authorised person. These reviews included websites, mobile apps, social media and advertising. The FCA found significant levels of non-compliance with the rules. Feedback provided to firms outlining FCA concerns and asked them to take action to rectify the breaches and conduct full reviews of their promotions to ensure they are compliant with the rules.

 

As a result of these reviews, FCA identified several themes including:

 

  • the use of affiliates and ‘finfluencers’ to promote the firm
  • using generic risk summaries without amendments for product-specific risks (for example risks relating to stablecoins or asset-backed coins)
  • risk warnings not being visible enough due to small fonts, hard-to-read colouring or non-prominent positioning
  • using their regulated status in a promotional manner
  • promotions making claims about the ‘safety’, ‘security’ or ease of using cryptoasset services without supporting evidence or highlighting the risks involved

 

FCA released a statement shortly after the rules came into force outlining the common issues, they had identified in the first days of the rules being implemented. In November they published non-handbook guidance on Cryptoasset financial promotions. The guidance does not set new requirements but helps firms to understand the implications of the requirements on them and provides detailed information of expectations.

 

Since the modification by consent expired on 8 January 2024, the FCA has been conducting reviews of the level of compliance with the ‘back end’ rules. They will take action against breaches, using supervisory tools when they identify persistent breaches and potentially using enforcement action where necessary.

 

The FCA has also explored the suitability of authorised firms who are approving financial promotions for unregistered crypto firms (s21 approvers). They expect s21 approvers to take their regulatory obligations seriously given the key role they play in allowing overseas firms to promote to UK consumers. Where this is not happening, the will take action. The FCA has placed requirements on one firm to restrict it from approving cryptoasset financial promotions. Another firm has voluntarily agreed to requirements to restrict it from approving cryptoasset financial promotions. They will continue to hold s21 approvers to the high standards they expect, particularly around their knowledge, competence and expertise, to ensure they are able to appropriately approve compliant promotions and identify non-compliance.

 

The FCA has taken significant action against firms illegally promoting to UK consumers. Between 8 October 2023 (when the regime came into force) and 31 December 2023, they have issued 450 consumer alerts against firms illegally promoting cryptoassets. They’re working with tech companies to remove and block illegal promotions, including websites, mobile applications (apps) and social media accounts. For example, work has resulted in 35 apps being removed from App Stores at the end of December 2023.  They will be continuing robust action against firms issuing illegal financial promotions in 2024.

 

The FCA remain concerned that regulated firms are not doing enough to meet their own obligations when providing support services, such as payment services, to crypto firms that are illegally promoting to UK consumers.  They’re engaging with these firms to remind them about their regulatory obligations including, but not limited to, carrying out appropriate due diligence on their clients, KYC checks and ensuring that they are not dealing with the proceeds of crime. The FCA expect to have a renewed focus on this area in 2024.

 

The FCA is engaged with firms offering staking products to determine whether these products are unregistered collective investment schemes.

 

Section 21 Gateway

From 7 February 2024, authorised firms will need permission from us if they wish to approve promotions for unregulated persons. This will ensure that firms approving financial promotions have the required competence and expertise as well as adequate systems, controls and processes to ensure that any promotions they are approving comply with the rules. Once the gateway comes into force, firms must notify us when approving a new promotion when it relates to high-risk products subject to a retail mass-marketing ban or qualifying cryptoassets. Notifications are also required when an amendment is being made to a promotion or a firm is withdrawing their approval for a promotion because of concerns. The FCA will be monitoring s21 approvals and will take action where they see promotions being inappropriately approved.

 

Strengthening financial promotions rules

In February 2023 the new rules for firms promoting high-risk investments introduced by PS22/10 – Strengthening financial promotion rules came into effect. These rules included:

 

  • a ban on promoting incentives to invest
  • the introduction of a 24-hour cooling off period for new customers
  • a personalised risk warning, clearer client categorisation and the requirement for new consumers to pass a robust appropriateness assessment before being able to commit to the investment

 

The FCA has conducted in-depth reviews of 13 firms offering restricted-mass market investments to test their compliance with these rules. They found varying levels of compliance from these firms and issued detailed feedback outlining concerns, as well as publishing overall findings with examples of good and poor practice for the consideration of the wider industry.

 

Raising market standards

During the year as part of the proactive work, the FCA reviewed financial promotions of:

 

  • firms who offer debt advice/packager services
  • funeral plan providers
  • firms who offer later life lending
  • providers of enterprise investment schemes
  • crypto firms
  • credit builder firms and firms who had repeated non-compliance of the financial promotions rules

 

This proactive work resulted in 1401 (14% of the 10,008) promotions being amended or withdrawn during 2023.

 

The FCA take matters of non-compliance with the rules seriously, and will consider what further suitable action to take, which can include using intervention powers, where appropriate.

 

2.3. Promoting competition and positive change

Debt Packager Referral Fee Ban

From 2 June 2023, the new rules banning debt packagers from receiving referral fees came into force. Following a 3-month implementation period, the rules applied to existing firms effective 2 October 2023. Debt packager firms must not receive any commission, fee or any other financial consideration from a debt solution provider for any referral or related service conducted. For firms who have chosen to cancel their relevant debt permissions, the FCA will be proactively monitoring their promoted business activities and taking action should they identify breaches of FSMA.

 

3. How to report a misleading financial advert or potential scam

Report a financial advert or promotion that you think is misleading, unfair or unclear.

 

Report a scam, authorised firm or individual to the FCA.

 

FCA casework will usually involve confidential information for the purposes of section 348 of FSMA. They are therefore unlikely to be able to provide further information about particular cases. Find out more about the information they can share.

 

Disclaimer

  • The figures reported within this data are accurate at the time of publication. But they can be subject to change depending on any ongoing work with a Firm.
  • The amend and/or withdraw outcome figure is based on cases closed during this period and will be determined by the number of promotions across various platforms.

 

Source: FCA

 

Download: Financial Promotion Guide

 

LS Consultancy is ideally placed to support firms of all sizes and types with this Financial Promotions review.

 

Need some promotional advice? If you want to understand more about how to make sure your marketing materials meet FCA standards, please click here.

 

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