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Blog: The FCA’s PI problem is in the numbers

Why can’t the regulator use its own statistics to fix the market?

It may be a distant memory given how fast the market is moving at the moment, but the FCA is still in the middle of a pretty significant review of how the Financial Services Compensation Scheme is funded.

The way the professional indemnity insurance market works for advisers – or actually, doesn’t work, as FCA boss Andrew Bailey himself has said – is central to getting everyone’s liabilities in order.

The FCA’s Gabriel return – often heavily criticised by advisers – actually collects some very useful and necessary information on PI that could help the regulator get a grip on the issues at hand. It seems not to have used this to its full, or indeed any, potential so far.

Cutting through the noise

The Gabriel return’s PI inputs are pretty basic and shouldn’t be arduous for users to fill in: start date and end date of policy; name of insurer; annual premium, which areas the policy covers (mortgage, insurance, or retail investments advising), any business lines the PI does not cover and any excesses that apply.

It is not inconceivable that, through aggregation of this data, the FCA could work out the average length of policies, the average annual cost of premiums and how this has changed over time.

It could also work out the most commonly excluded business lines. It could tell, say, if a significant number of investment and pensions advisers who also advised on mortgages had occasionally actually omitted that from cover.

If the FCA is worried the market is concentrated among too few providers, the output from the drop down list of insurers on the return could spit out what percentage of the market each holds. There’s an ‘other’ option too, to count up the total number of smaller providers that are actually out there.

If the FCA fears the market is offering deals that are too short term, the length of policy data punched into Gabriel should readily confirm this.

Yet, for reasons that have never quite been adequately explained to me, this information isn’t at the FCA’s fingertips.

Regulatory responsibility

A while back, I put in a Freedom of Information Act request asking the FCA if it could run off any aggregate numbers from Gabriel about the PI market. It couldn’t.

I wasn’t asking for a more sophisticated analysis (e.g. correlating the providers selected with exclusions and excesses that apply to see if it is particular providers that are causing the issue). The FOI was simply asking, from the FCA’s data, how much are advisers paying for PI?

The concerns raised regarding PI in the FCA’s consultation on FSCS funding seem quite specific: “some policies exclude the insolvency of the policyholder or the FSCS as a claimant” and “may also exclude particular types of sales and advice from their cover”. But how many policies? Which types of advice are excluded? How frequently?

Industry representatives are about to go into further talks with the regulator. That’s all well and good for collecting anecdotal evidence, but where is the concrete analysis that can really punch through both sides’ vested interests?

Of course the PI inputs are still important; compliance professionals have told me that a red flag will alert the FCA to late professional indemnity insurance renewals if the numbers don’t add up.

I understand that reporting periods might differ, and there may be nuances in the qualitative inputs for excesses for example, but most of this information is simple quantitative stuff that comes in on a six-month basis. I understand that it may incur a small cost to churn into an accessible format.

Maybe the FCA has received some other good intelligence outside of Gabriel from the market on the size and shape of the PI problem – though no one I’ve spoken to seems to have any good data to that end.

Who can blame them, with such a range of complex policies out there? That means it’s up to the regulator to use what it already has to furnish the market with the knowledge it should have stored in its databases.

Other areas of Gabriel have been used to good effect by the FCA to extract informative aggregate data, for example complaints and qualifications data. It’s about time we saw the same from the PI returns.


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There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. PI market works for advisor firms that take the time, effort and willingness to engage with experienced IFA brokers / providers . It doesn’t work for firms that buy on price alone and simply treat PI as a “boxed ticked for the regulator”. PI is to protect advisory businesses , their staff and their clients . Engage with specialist , experienced IFA PI brokers don’t buy on price alone. ps – I have specialised in the IFA PI market for over 25 years – yet to come across a reputable firms PI policy provided by an reputable insurer exclude the FSCS as a claimant !

  2. What happens if the policy has lapsed when the claim comes in, though, Jamie?

    All the policies I have ever seen have been on a claims received basis. If the adviser goes bust the cover will not be renewed – even assuming the insurer is willing to continue it. So when the claim arrives there is no policy in force to meet it.

  3. Julian Stevens 25th May 2017 at 9:53 am

    The main problem with the PII market seems to be that at the renewal date following the first whiff of yet another of the FCA’s hindsight reviews, insurers withdraw cover in that particular area.

    Anecdotally, very few complaints arise in the (policy) year in which a piece of business was actually written so, if cover for it is subsequently and unilaterally withdrawn, you’re left high and dry.

    The only way to address this is a PII policy which, as long as you maintain your premiums, will provide cover indefinitely in respect of all past business in respect of which the policy provided cover at the time you wrote that business. But insurers just won’t do it and it’s hard to see how the FCA can make them do so ~ they’ll simply say No. Should the FCA try to insist that all new policies going forward must provide indefinite cover, insurers will simply withdraw from the market. Even run-off cover is of no value if the insurer is free to impose new exclusions at a later date.

    Perhaps the PFS’s proposal that the FSCS and PII should be combined is the only solution.

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