The FCA plans to take action against firms offering misleading exchange rates to potential customers, such as offering the “interbank” rate, only to switch to an alternative, less competitive rate once the customer is at a more advanced stage of the transaction.
Besides the offering of “unachievable” exchange rates, the FCA wants to stop firms making unsubstantiated claims about how much rival services charge, “unless the comparison is fair and balanced and the firm can prove that the claims made are true.”
The FCA revealed that the UK currency exchange transfer market for outbound services is worth approximately £60bn per annum, with remittances; sending money overseas regularly to support family or friends; responsible for roughly £18bn of that figure.
The new rules will be aimed at protecting “consumers who are individuals acting outside their trade, business or profession, micro-businesses and charities with an annual income of less than £1 million”, who are perceived to be most vulnerable due to having less experience of foreign currency exchange markets and what the precise costs of making a transaction ought to be. The FCA will insist that: “where providers compare the costs of their service with other providers, they do so in ways which are meaningful, fair and balanced, and capable of being substantiated.”
The main concern is the way in which a foreign exchange company may communicate a promotion offering a particular rate to win a customer’s business, only to offer a less competitive rate once the customer has all but committed to using the firms services. In the FCA’s view, the misleading offer has prevented the customer from visiting other sites or using a comparison service to compare real time or achievable rates offered by other service providers.
As much as possible the FCA wants to make sure that customers are getting all the facts and that there are no hidden charges or fees that are applied at a later stage, making a seemingly inexpensive transaction more costly than advertised, and giving the service provider an unfair advantage over competitors who are more transparent about their pricing and provide information about additional charges up front.
The FCA says that “research and evidence collected on market practices, as well as customer behavioural trends, indicate that customers face challenges in understanding the total cost of a currency exchange transaction”, and that misleading advertising “could lead to losses for consumers and SMEs.”
The second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) which came into effect EU-wide in January this year has introduced new legislation designed to curb misleading advertising practices within the international money transfer industry, and covering “disclosure of information, cost and charges for currency conversions”. The FCA also plans to take into account directives from the European Commission “designed to increase transparency of charges for payments that involve currency exchanges and to increase the comparability of the options available for payment service users.”
The FCA is inviting feedback from firms and interested parties before it decides what specific action to take. The public consultation closes in November, with new rules and guidelines expected to be released published early in 2019.
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