Monday, 27 November 2017

Towards the creation of the EU Financial Consumer Protection Agency?

A couple of months ago we reported on the results of the public consultation on the Operation of the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs), and mentioned that civil sector representatives (Better Finance) advocated a complete overhaul of the existing system of EU financial supervision as opposed to partial improvements in the interest of consumers. This voice has now become lauder, and several representatives, including BEUC has joined their forced to request this reform. Today they posted an Open Letter to the EU Commission on the Proposal for the EU financial supervisory reform.

In this letter they explain that the current supervisory framework is not adequate to effectively protect consumers. Consumer protection comes as the last objective of the ESAs enjoying low priority as compared to other objectives. This low priority is evidenced for example by a failure to ever use one of their most significant powers, a power to temporarily prohibit the use of dangerous financial products. The letter also highlights that the ESAs has also failed to adequately coordinate national supervisory authorities, and that consequently consumer protection, or conduct of business supervision is neglected in some Member States.

In order to priorities consumer protection, the letter advocates the move towards a 'twin peak' model in the EU, that is, a towards a creation of a separate supervisory authority that would be in charge to control the ways in which financial firms conduct business with their customers. This separation of the consumer protection objective from other supervisory objectives (the 'twin peak' model) is already working well in some EU countries like the UK and Belgium, and outside the EU, for example, in the US. The letter therefore urges the EU Commission to reconsider its current approach to keeping the regulatory/supervisory structure as it is, and to give thought, and preferably action, to the 'twin peak' model.

Importantly, in addition to raising the importance, the letter also sets out a basic strategic plan for moving towards the new model. Phase 1 would include a clear separation of consumer protection mandate from other mandates of the existing ESAs, by reforming the Consumer Protection Divisions of these authorities and in phase 2, these would then be merged into a newly created  single authority, the EU Financial Consumer Protection Agency. The letter addressed other important questions such as funding, governance and mandate.

Is a single supervisory authority for consumer protection viable in the EU, or could consumers be just as effectively protected by prioritizing the consumer protection objective of the existing authorities? What do you think?

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