At the end of February the FCA closes its latest consumer research ‘The Financial Lives 2017 Survey’. It will be interesting to see what outputs emerge from this and there may be some clues in the survey questions asked.
Carried out by an independent social research organisation, the survey is designed to understand consumer attitudes towards money, and experiences of different financial products and services. The FCA indicates that it is targeting a representative sample of households and the questions are certainly inclusive, allowing for a wide range of responses.
The survey is in-depth including over 70 questions, many multi-part, and taking one researcher over 30 minutes to read, consider and answer every question. A £10 shopping voucher is offered to incentivise completion.
The FCA states that “the information collected will help (us) to protect consumers”. “We will use the results from the survey to increase our knowledge and understanding of the issues affecting consumers. In particular, the results are intended to: help target our work to protect consumers where it is most needed; and gain a better understanding of whether, in the view of consumers, firms treat their customers fairly”.
The survey captures a great deal of socio-demographic information to understand household financial circumstances. In addition questions are asked such as “to what extent do you feel keeping up with bills and credit commitments is a burden” and “… have you fallen behind, or missed, any payments … credit commitments … bills …” and “have you used debt management services.” These questions, combined with others asked, might allude to understanding how vulnerable customers are, a subject high on the regulatory agenda since last year’s review on the matter. If a correlation is found when this data is analysed against other responses, such as the experience recipients have received, then this could motivate further investigation from the FCA.
The survey asks specifically about products bought and the experience of doing so. Current accounts, savings accounts, credit and loans, mortgages, insurance, protection, mortgages and investments are all subjected to scrutiny. One question even asks to name the current account provider. Retirement planning and pensions was also a key feature of the survey.
The importance of buying cycle decisions received particular attention. Social media, and recommendations from friends and family, are clearly acknowledged as motivating consumers to choose products. The role of independent financial advice was also explored in some detail.
In preparation for its new responsibilities to regulate the claims management sector in 2019, the FCA has also taken the opportunity to better understand consumer attitudes and experiences in this area. A whole section of questions is dedicated to CMCs to understand what people know about the claims process, what they think about CMCs, if they have been contacted by one and if they have used one to make a claim.
It is unknown if the FCA will publish any analysis once completed, and how it will actually use the information to inform next steps. Given the questions it is possible that the survey could provoke review into specific sectors. The survey could also be used by the FCA to provide the industry with a real view of how it’s doing.