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Buyer beware is ‘hard to defend’, says watchdog boss

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Martin Wheatley, chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), believes the concept of caveat emptor in financial services in “hard to defend”.

The new regulator’s top boss is set to make the comments at a speech later today, his first major address since the FCA was launched.

He thinks suggesting consumers are ultimately responsible for making poor decisions has its limitations.

“‘Buyer beware’ becomes hard to defend when unsophisticated customers are buying seriously complicated financial products, where the risk of failure is far more dangerous than a decision in the supermarket to buy three bananas instead of one.

“There are questions that many investors simply will not ask because they are humans, not automatons,” he will say.

The speech will mark the launch of two behavioural economics papers.

Wheatley is keen to use behavioural economics in the work of the FCA.

“I want the FCA to bring a more human face to the regulation of financial services; a more pragmatic approach to regulation. Not only to defend against sharp practice but also to encourage better decision making among consumers.

“The best financial service companies, the most consumer-focused, go to considerable pains to make sure their customers are steered towards the best products and the most suitable. We should applaud these firms and learn from them.”

However, he will also recognise that this is an area of fledgling expertise and that behavioural economics would not solve every problem – nor should it try to.

“We should not pretend this is a straightforward discipline. There is no mechanical routine to follow when we apply behavioural economics to regulation. It will require us to change the way we identify risks, diagnose problems and troubleshoot.

“It’s also worth pointing out that behavioural economics is not enough, on its own, to guarantee good regulation or strong financial products. It is a part only of the new FCA’s identity.”



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