6 August 2015
If you can’t be clearer, you’re not trying hard enough
When Fairer Finance launched last year, I have to confess that I had no idea that 18 months later I'd be spending so much of my time wading through the minutiae of terms and conditions documents.
Our mission is to create a fairer banking and insurance market for everyone, and at the outset we thought we would achieve our goal by publishing ratings which forced companies to compete on more than price. But what became clear to us very quickly is that while there's often an appetite in companies to make things simpler - people have tried and failed many times before. Worse still, they've persuaded themselves that change simply isn't possible because they're handcuffed by regulation.
Changing the market from the inside out
And that's when we realised that as well as publishing our ratings and campaigning for a fairer market from the outside, there was an opportunity for us to roll up our sleeves and start trying to change things from the inside out too.
We're currently engaged in rewriting two insurance policy documents - which is incredibly hard work. But as we near the end of our first one, I'm glad to say that I think we've achieved our goal. It is possible to eliminate jargon, and use a conversational style of language that people understand. And even where there are rules and regulations which force you to include things that we'd ideally take out - it's still possible to use a bit of humour to make them not seem so officious and intimidating.
The one sector that is proving the biggest challenge, however, is credit - where there really are buckets of rules that make it hard for companies to be able to be as clear as they might want to be. But as we engage with our first credit card provider to try and help them on this journey, we've also begun talking to regulators and trade bodies to see whether we can start to bring the barriers down.
Busting compliance myths
Credit card companies have to produce summary boxes, and there are fairly strict guidelines as to how these are put together. But on further examination, we discovered that the rules are laid out in a voluntary code of conduct called the "Lending Code”, which in turn points to guidelines from the UK Cards Association, an industry trade body. So while companies tell us that they can’t change their summary boxes because of regulation - what they really mean is that they’re concerned about breaching a voluntary code.
Hopefully, by engaging with the industry, we'll be able to work towards clearer summary boxes. But other rules will be harder to break down. As I wrote last month, we're big fans of the FCA's Smarter Communications work - which comes with their commitment to consider changing rules where they are obstructive to clear communications. But some of the worst rules are handed down from Brussels. This is an additional challenge - but not one that we intend to shy away from.
For those companies that genuinely want to start communicating clearly with their customers - it is possible. And the days of being able to blame regulation are quickly coming to an end.