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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Maintaining a consumer focus

Peter Clark on marshalling the profession’s consumer support activities

In recent years the profession has become increasingly conscious of the need to take account of all stakeholders in the financial services sector. We have always been pretty good at understanding the angle of the product-providers and that of intermediaries. However, the profession’s determination to adopt a higher public-interest profile has led us increasingly to look at issues from the consumer’s end of the telescope. It is a key message that the Institute president is stressing. Our increased interest and involvement in consumer support has been timely when viewed against the activities of others with an interest in the financial services sector. The government, regulators, consumer bodies, trade associations, and others have recognised that the health of the sector is critically dependent on the perceptions, knowledge, and behaviour of financial consumers, and these organisations have raised the profile of these consumers within their agendas.

Readers will be aware of the profession’s facilitation of the Inquiry into the Provision of Financial Information and Advice, chaired by Sir John Banham. This culminated in a review held at Staple Inn in December 2002 (see The Actuary, December 2002, p4). I want to thank Paul Seymour for all the work he did on this and other consumer-focused activities. In the box (right) is a selection of the profession’s other recent and planned consumer support activities. Generally, individual boards have managed these activities as appropriate. Some effort has been put into cross-board co-ordination, but the Faculty and Institute Management Committee has now decided that a formal steering group is required for this purpose. I was asked to chair this group, which will be accountable directly to the management committee. I have invited representatives of interested boards to join me in this task, and the steering group held its inaugural meeting on 3 December 2002.

My colleagues and I are charged with taking forward the profession’s contribution to the nation’s needs in the consumer support area by:

  • maintaining a proactive liaison with external agencies with consumer support agendas, where appropriate taking the lead and ensuring that the profession’s activities are complementary with those of others;
  • ensuring that there is effective liaison on consumer support issues between the practice boards, the ECPD Board, and the Communications Board, and any other groups whose agendas embrace consumer support, the aim being to promote synergies and prevent unnecessary duplication of effort;
  • ensuring that the profession’s consumer support activities are in the public interest;
  • being a focal point and information centre for work on consumer support within the profession; this will involve maintaining a comprehensive summary of the profession’s work and a good overview of external activity in the area.

Supporting me on the group are Ian Balls (Life Board), John Bowman (Pensions Board), Roy Brimblecombe (ECPD Board), Alan Goodman (Social Policy Board), Tony Osborn-Barker (Finance & Investment Board), and Paul Bristow (secretary).

We shall shortly produce a web page to keep members up to date on the profession’s consumer support activities. In the meantime, if you would like to contribute to the profession’s work in this area, please contact Paul Bristow, email paulb@actuaries.org.uk, tel 020-7632 2118.

Some recent and planned consumer support activities

  • A ‘Consumer Financial Education Planning Group’ dinner (the fourth in a series). Guest speaker – Ron Sandler, with other guests representing various organisations interested in financial education.
  • Support of the Cambridge Millennium Mathematics Project, its Plus magazine, and its ‘Motivate’ video conference.
  • The Personal Financial Education Group, a charity that helps to provide quality assurance for financial education work for schools. The profession is on the steering group.
  • Support to the ‘Big Idea’ – a joint initiative involving several professional bodies, to develop a module on financial education for young people aged 16–25. This age range recognises the gap between schools and the FSA’s older target group.
  • Links with the FSA and its work with schools, particularly its annual conference. Within this framework, the profession plans to run a pilot presentation at a school in Wandsworth.
  • Contribution to the Pre-Retirement Association’s learning material on financial issues for adults.
  • Support to the Treasury on ‘Sandler’ products.
  • Translating the work of the profession’s Retirement Income Working Party into practical tools that individuals could use to inform their decisions in this area.
  • Behavioural finance seminar (29 January 2003).
  • Consumer risk research (final stage 1 report to be published in March 2003).
  • Support to the Treasury ‘Savings and Assets’ pilot projects.