The FCA has been criticised by the Complaints Commissioner for a lack of empathy and openness, which it attributes to the regulator’s “attitudinal problems”.
The Complaints Commissioner 2017/18 annual report says the FCA needs to tackle problems with “defensiveness, lack of candour, and lack of empathy”.
The report says while only a small proportion of complaints dealt with by the regulator are seen by the commissioner, there is enough proof to suggest more needs to be done to promote an open and empathetic culture at the FCA.
The report says: “The commissioner continues to urge the FCA to promote a culture in which consumers, regulated individuals and firms, and all those interacting with the FCA are dealt with sympathetically and ensure that those considering complaints provide robust internal challenge within the organisation, rather than simply seeking to defend what has happened.”
Figures in the report show the FCA received 557 complaints in the last financial year, slightly less than in the 590 in 2016/17, but up significantly from 464 in 2015/16.
Recommendations given to the FCA by the Complaints Commissioner last year also called for more empathy in dealings with stakeholders.
Complaints Commissioner Antony Townsend says: “Too much time is spent in constructing defences for past actions, rather than considering whether things might have been done better and could be done better in future. It is incumbent on all public organisations, such as the FCA, to ensure they deal with people humanely.”
Responding to the findings, the FCA says: “We do accept that we could seem defensive sometimes and we will work on how to communicate in a more effective and transparent way. We believe that approaching complainants with empathy is essential [and] occasionally we know we could have done better in recognising the impact that we have.”
The regulator also came under fire for how it interacts with small businesses.
The report says: “The FCA’s complaints handling are likely to have a disproportionate impact upon small firms and individual consumers, who will be more vulnerable. This makes it particularly important that the FCA is appropriately sensitive to the problems faced by small businesses and consumers who are not sophisticated.”
The FCA says lessons learned from complaints “can be a powerful tool to understand what went wrong and how we can change for the better”.
It says: “The board recognises that in a number of cases as outlined in the commissioner’s report, our handing of those complaints could have been better. We understand that there is still more we can do and so we will continue to focus on enhancing our approach to dealing with complaints and the service we provide to complainants.”
Townsend did praise the regulator’s clean-up of its backlog of work, which was noted in last year’s report as a major concern for processing delays.