The FCA’s Smarter Comms initiative: a few words.

The Financial Conduct Authority has just published the feedback to its Smarter Communications Initiative. You probably missed the media coverage, as there wasn’t any. Which is a shame, says Ian Henderson – because the Initiative is of vital importance to pretty much everyone.

Two cheers for the FCA. Its Smarter Communications Initiative is long overdue, and while some of its conclusions so far are a blinding statement of what has been obvious to the rest of us for a long time, it is extremely welcome.

In particular, the FCA has woken up to the fact that consumers are way ahead of the finance industry in the way they research products or services and educate themselves. It is a revelation to absolutely no-one that we all use mobile and video to learn about everything from which car to buy to how to worm the cat.

Regulation that makes firms push impenetrable information at consumers in forms that they can’t or won’t read not only adds to the confusion it’s supposed to clear, but actually makes the consumers’ vital decision-making process more difficult and less likely to produce the right outcome.

As the Feedback itself says, consumers need “A more flexible approach … simple, clear information”. And in an even more about-flipping-time statement, the Feedback reveals that “Consumers, who choose to use digital channels, need communications that are suitable for today’s digitalized context”. In other words don’t hand a smartphone user reams of paper to read. Like, obvs.

What also seems a bit obvious is that some of the people who know most about creating clear financial communications are those who make a living from doing it well – agencies who work in the sector, like AML. So it’s a shame that the FCA seems to have sought its feedback exclusively from financial firms themselves.

As an agency we’ve worked quite hard with several of our clients to help make their communications clearer and easier to use. We’ve written elsewhere that the financial sector is where the food industry was 30 years ago, before consistent labeling transformed consumer empowerment.

We’ve helped clients with social media ‘playbooks’ (not rulebooks) and workshops to help them use the medium safely and well. And we’ve helped clients use digital channels – a video version of some deeply complex terms and conditions for instance. It’s friendly, fun to watch and contains all the information consumers actually need to understand what they’re buying.

Simple ideas for complicated businesses is what we do at AML. So we welcome the FCA’s initiative, while wishing it might move a little faster to keep up with our digitized society. And we’d love to help the FCA shape the next stage of its initiative, as well as continuing to help our clients stay ahead of its excellent intentions.