Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Is there a need to reform European financial supervision for the benefit of consumers?

The European Commission has recently closed its public consultation on the Operation of the European Supervisory Authorities (see the feedback statement here).

The supervision of financial firms in the EU is subject to a complex, multi layered system consisting of national and EU supervisory authorities that has became even more complex after the creation of the Banking Union. For us here most important are the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs). The ESAs, the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) has been created in 2010 as a response to the financial crisis. Although they are primarily concerned with prudential supervision (ensuring that financial firms have enough capital to operate, that they are safely and soundly), consumer protection is also on the list of their objectives.

Consequently, the recently held consultation asked whether the current tasks and powers of the ESAs are sufficient to protect consumers and how they could be improved in this respect.

Many stakeholders found that the scope of ESAs' tasks and powers is adequate and should not be extended. Instead, they should use their existing powers more efficiently, and should be more aligned with the problems at national level. However, some stakeholders saw room for extending ESAs' powers, e.g. by giving ESAs more powers for consumer protect purposes, want to see more work in the financial innovation space, including on virtual currencies, or on financial education, cross-border protection, big data etc. Finally, some, like Better Finance, advocate for the overhaul of the current system of supervision by opting for a 'twin-peak' model instead of the current 'silo' approach. The argument is that the current ESAs prioritise prudential matters over consumer protection matters (see their press release here).

Learning from the experience of the UK, the twin peak model could be an interesting option. In the UK, the former Financial Services Authority, having both the mandates of prudential supervision and consumer protection, failed to properly balance its two limbs of supervision. Although it is said to have paid more attention to conduct matters, having too much to do resulted in a number of conduct failures causing significant detriment to consumers (PPI, payday loans, etc).  The creation of a separate consumer protection authority (the Financial Conduct Authority) has improved consumer protection standards and practice, and the approach so far seems to work well for the UK. However, we must admit, that although the solution of having only one supervisory authority for the entire EU financial market sounds appealing, it is a radical suggestion that requires, among others, substantial background research.

What do you think, is there a need for an EU Financial Consumer Protection Authority, and is it a viable solution?

2 comments:

  1. Having witnessed the output from both local and EU-wide enforcement regimes regarding "financial services" (i.e. banking operations), I dare to say that there is a long way to go forward in bringing the concepts of consumer protection into the proper attention and perspective of such institutions. The reason seems to be that they tend to prioritize "systematic stability" (i.e. the health of the banks) over other factors (such as consumer protection). This bias of institutional thinking must be reverted in order to change things in favor of consumers.

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