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Financial Regulators: Examinations

Volume 740: debated on Monday 22 October 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are considering introducing qualifying examinations for individuals working for financial regulators.

My Lords, the qualifications for the appointment or advancement of individuals employed by financial regulators are a matter for the regulator concerned. All newly recruited supervisory staff in the FSA are required to undergo mandatory assessments at the end of their probation to demonstrate that they have sufficient technical knowledge to carry out their roles. Thereafter, an annual assessment of technical competency is conducted to ensure that key supervisory staff can evidence that they continue to meet the required standards.

My Lords, can I ask the Minister whether he thinks it slightly inconsistent that no examinations need to be passed by people working as regulators, whereas under the RDR reforms the regulators require all financial advisers, irrespective of age, cleanness of record and experience, to take examinations? As a result, over 20,000 will be stepping down at the end of the year because they feel that they are too old to take examinations, many of which are not relevant to their particular expertise. We are likely to end up with financial advice being available only to the wealthy in our community.

My Lords, I certainly do not agree with my noble friend’s conclusion on this. As he well knows, one of the conclusions of the retail distribution review was that the role of financial adviser should be properly professionalised. I have seen comparisons being made between the professionalisation of financial advisers and of lawyers and accountants. Although these are matters of judgment for the FSA, the authority deems it appropriate that exams should play a part in this. I understand from the FSA that the final rules setting out the new qualification requirements were made in January 2011, two years before the requirements are to come in. On top of that, an indicative list of level 4 qualifications has been available since the end of 2009. The FSA’s research shows that, up to the spring of 2012, 71% of advisers had already qualified, and the expectation is that 93% are on track to secure the appropriate qualification in time. The final point I would make to my noble friend—again, I am sure that he is aware of it—is that, as well as taking examinations, financial advisers also have the option of an alternative assessment procedure.

My Lords, having spent a great many hours with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and others on the Financial Services Bill, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he will remind the House of the enormous power being given to the financial regulators. I have been looking into it. It may be that never in the history of our country has anyone had the regulatory power that these people have. It is a power either to do good, of course, or to get a lot of things wrong, to the benefit of our chief competitors in Frankfurt and Wall Street. Surely the Government must take a much more positive view of what sort of people are working for financial regulators and themselves take some responsibility to see that they are people with a broad range of experience who do not wish to see our financial services sector destroyed?

My Lords, as well as getting the architecture of supervision and regulation right—on which this House has rightly spent many hours and to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has made some important contributions—the Government should within that appoint to those bodies an appropriate board with appropriate expertise and experience. It would then rightfully be up to the two successor bodies to the FSA to decide how to equip their staff properly to do the job. The FSA’s approach to testing and competence will be continued by the FCA. The FCA is also exploring whether to have training externally accredited, which the FSA has not done up to this point. The PRA, on the other side, is developing a comprehensive strategy, including a three-year training programme for new graduates. These matters are therefore being taken extremely seriously by both the successor bodies, which is how it should be.

My Lords, it seems clear that the FSA was blind to the moral and ethical failings of the banks as well as to their regulatory failings. How will the FCA do better in this respect? It is all very well worrying about the locks on the stable door, but should we not also be worried about the mindset of the horse?

My Lords, one of the things that is very striking about the FSA is the speed with which it put in place an inquiry into what had gone wrong on Northern Rock. It was very frank about its failings and has changed an awful lot of things already. One should be fair to the FSA and recognise that it acknowledged the failings of its supervisory regime, which is already reflected in differences to its approach to training and continual assessment.

Would the Minister like to hazard a guess as to why the FSA, unlike many other professional organisations, feels that it is not important for the public to recognise the skills of those individuals by the qualifications that they hold, particularly in such an important area?

My Lords, as I have said, I understand that the FCA is thinking about whether its training could be externally accredited. So it is indeed thinking ahead to whether that could be a possibility.

My Lords, in his initial reply, my noble friend said in effect that there would be a benchmark after the first year’s work in a regulator and at subsequent stages, but nothing about the benchmark for new entrants. Further to his answer to the previous question, does he not agree not merely that the public need reassurance but that the practitioners need to have respect and to be in awe of the regulators and of their qualifications? Otherwise, there will be considerable discontent and a good many mistakes made.

My Lords, the House can of course be assured that the FSA would not seek to recruit, let alone retain, any individuals who were not competent to carry out their duties. What I said in my first Answer was that, at the end of the probationary period, an assessment is done, so it certainly does not wait until the end of the first annual assessment.

My Lords, in his Answer, the Minister talked about technical qualifications. Surely, given where we are after LIBOR and everything else, we need a code of conduct that also covers ethical issues. Qualifications are needed for that not just, as is proposed, under LIBOR. Does he not agree that it should be provided in the Financial Services Bill for everyone working in banking?

My Lords, I am sure that they take account of the judgments that need to be made on the ethical front, but they should not be in the Bill before the House.