Monday, June 18, 2012

Our message on financial services attracts high-level crowd in US capital

After CI’s latest event on financial consumer protection, Justin Macmullan takes stock of the progress being made and the challenges ahead.

“What progress has been made” was the big question being asked by the 80 or so delegates at a one-day conference on financial consumer protection (FCP) coordinated by Consumers International and the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue on 6 June in Washington.

The answers came from an impressive line up of speakers from the Mexican presidency of the G20, the Financial Stability Board, the OECD, the World Bank and officials from the US, Canada and the EU – a sure sign that CI is attracting the attention of the big players in FCP.

The conference was opened by David Vladeck from the US Federal Trade Commission and Nicholas Rathod from the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who set the scene with current examples of what US agencies are doing to protect consumers of financial services.

The conference then moved on to the three main sessions. The first session assessed progress in the G20 process - something that CI is closely involved with, having played an instrumental part in getting it off the ground in 2010.

Two years after the launch of that campaign a lot has been achieved including a new set of international principles, and proposals for a new international organisation (FinCoNet) to support the development of financial consumer protection around the world.

Juan Manual Valle spoke for the Mexican government which holds the G20 presidency this year and received considerable praise for Mexico’s openness to work with consumer organisations and their efforts to link the G20’s work on financial inclusion with consumer protection.  

However, challenges remain. Clear guidelines need to be developed on how the principles should be implemented and plans for how their implementation is working will be reviewed.  FinCoNet also needs to be established with the resources and mandate to do an effective job.

The next session moved the debate from the international to the regional and national. With major changes in European and US financial regulation over the last two years, there was a lot to discuss. What was striking was how common many of the challenges were – top of the list being the need to establish an effective organisation with a clear mandate and focus on financial consumer protection and appropriate tools to do the job.

The final session took on the issue of mobile banking – a development that is already well established in some countries and is about to take off in many others. Here there was an interesting debate around how to protect consumers’ security, privacy and rights whilst not stifling innovation. A question of balance, or smart regulation, that will no doubt continue as the technology spreads from one country to another.

What was clear from all the discussions was the value in sharing examples and experiences between countries and the essential role that consumer organisations have in ensuring consumers views are heard in these debates.

CI is uniquely positioned to deliver on both these counts and will be continuing our work on FCP with our international membership.

Financial services is a priority programme for CI as part of the Your Rights, Our Mission | Strategy 2015.

A conference programme (pdf) and full list of speakers (pdf) is also available.

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