On Monday, we published a Discussion Paper on the review of the Consumer Protection Code (‘Code’), which I hope will lead to an open conversation on important consumer protection issues. The publication of the paper highlights the importance to us of engaging with consumers, industry, their representatives and the public, to better understand the impact of our policy decisions both now and into the future. We want to take time to listen in order to inform our work.
Consumer protection is at the heart of everything the Central Bank does. Our guiding principle, from the State’s founding legislation, is that our “constant and predominant aim shall be the welfare of the people as a whole.” Our mandate enables us to harness our wide-ranging economic, financial stability and regulatory expertise in order to protect consumers’ interests.
A Changing World and Protecting Consumers
Over the course of the next decade rapid change in our economy will occur, driven by significant technological changes, the need to address climate change, the ageing of our societies and the continued changes to different ways of working.
The financial services industry here is a highly developed sector, comprising of both domestic and international facing firms, who serve both households and businesses within Ireland, Europe and around the world. The Irish financial system provides important services to consumers including the provision of over 5.4 million current accounts and 8.7 million insurance policies1, and the processing of 2.64 billion payment transactions during 2021 (with a total value of €9.26 trillion).2
The sector is already undergoing significant transformational change driven by innovation and changes in consumer preferences. Increasingly people are accessing their financial services digitally, while others continue to favour a traditional means of access.
We want to better understand, anticipate and be forward looking and responsive to the new environment and the far-reaching changes taking place in financial services.
Through this period of transition, we want to see consumers’ best interests secured. Availability and choice of products and services is critical to that. Positive consumer outcomes depend on firms acting in their customers’ best interests, consumers being empowered to make informed decisions, and rules and regulations that provide users of financial services with a proportionate level of protection.
Consumer Protection Code
The Code is a cornerstone of consumer protection in financial services in Ireland, establishing a set of rules and expectations for how firms should treat their customers, and has allowed the Central Bank to intervene to protect consumers.
The Code – in tandem with overarching European and domestic laws – continues to drive our work to protect consumers on a daily basis. We have been clear that firms must navigate the current significant changes in the financial landscape in a manner that places the best interests of consumers at the heart of their commercial decision-making and avoids creating risks to consumers. The Code remains central to this.
It is important that we take the time to consider the issues that are emerging from significant societal and technological change. We know changes to the Code must be informed by the experiences and insights of those whom it seeks to protect, as well as those it regulates. This is why we have published the Discussion Paper. We want to hear from as many people as possible about how consumer protection in financial services should evolve to remain effective.
The Importance of Engagement
The Central Bank’s mission is to serve the public interest by maintaining monetary and financial stability while ensuring that the financial system operates in the best interests of consumers and the wider economy. Our mandate allows us to take a comprehensive view across sectors and tackle challenges across the entire, inter-connected system, including as an integral part of the EU and its institutions and frameworks. We continue to engage with, and listen to, businesses, other state agencies, our European partners and consumers to better inform us of how our policy decisions impact across different areas of society.
Our upcoming Financial System Conference on 2-3 November will bring together diverse perspectives from a wide range of our stakeholders including industry leaders, consumer representatives, and international policymakers from both Ireland and across the EU.
The conference will discuss and debate the driving forces that are shaping the financial system as well as the challenges and opportunities that are facing the financial system such as climate change, consumer protection, innovation, disruption and regulation.
But it is not only through conferences that we can listen and understand the effects of our policies. Over the past number of months, I have enjoyed visiting different parts of Ireland to meet with local entrepreneurs, and other members of the community. The visits helped to give me a perspective of how businesses around the country view the economy. Such engagement is a core part of our work.
With financial services evolving rapidly, the Consumer Protection Code must evolve to continue protecting consumers in the future. I hope that our Discussion Paper will help us to navigate through the various economic changes and challenges that are now emerging so that we can continue to focus on the welfare of the people as a whole.
1 Data from Conduct of Business Returns Dec 2021 – data relates to Irish personal consumers.
2 Payment data represents transactions recorded by Irish-based Payment Service Providers during 2021 – https://www.centralbank.ie/statistics/data-and-analysis/payments-services-statistics