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Silencing the prophets

It seems improbable that it is now a year since the FSA took over responsibility for regulation of mortgage selling.

When the Govern- ment first annou- nced that the existing regime of voluntary non-statutory control was to be replaced, many people were critical of the decision and indeed there are still a few who continue to express the view that everything should have been left alone – in fact the decision was inevitable once the European directive became effective.

There do, however, remain concerns that the current regime is not fully inclusive, and the Govern-ment needs to ensure the same levels of consumer protection are made available in all product areas, with the inclusion of home reversions and second-charge business.

In terms of the regulation that currently applies, the ‘prophets of doom’ suggested that many small firms would not be able to meet the new standards and would be forced into closures or mergers or would all join networks. It was suggested that the consumer would lose choice and that the high street lenders would take a greater share of the market. In fact, the numbers of firms in the industry has not shrunk signific- antly and the consumer still has access to a large number of advisers. If anything, the percentage of business coming through the intermediary channel is increasing.

Similarly, regula- ting the market has not had a great impact on the product providers. There have been a few instances of consolidation but for every name that disappears a new one arises to take its place.

But the FSA needs to ensure that the desired level of consumer protection is being achieved efficiently. Recent figures published following a review by Marlborough Sterling have identified how much the cost of processing a mortgage has risen so far – from 89 to 146 in the one year and the CML is warning that further new initiatives could add up to 1,000 to the cost of buying a home. Consumer protection will always come at a cost but that cost has to be proportio- nate and can only be justified where there is evidence of actual or poten- tial consumer detriment.

The results of the FSA’s investigations go a long way to support the AMI view that the mortgage industry is a well run and reputable sector. Many firms still need to recognise the importance of proper record keeping but there is little evidence of firms acting improperly or to the detriment of their clients.

A key factor is the professionalism of the advisers and the requirement for everyone carrying out that role to be either qualified or to be working under the supervision of someone who is.

The story of regulation so far is therefore largely positive, and it is a credit to the professionalism and adaptability of all those in the industry that the period of turmoil has passed and consumers can continue to access great service and products with confidence.

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