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Report identifies need for voluntary standards within financial services

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The financial services industry is failing to adopt voluntary standards crucial to rebuilding trust in banking, despite overwhelming support from those working in the sector, according to a report.

Backing Market Forces, a report jointly commissioned by BSI, the UK National Standards Body, and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), the professional body for securities and investment practitioners, argues that adopting voluntary standards, alongside regulation, could provide a third way between self-regulation and over regulation from government.
 
The study analysed how voluntary standards could play a greater role in rebuilding a safer and more trusted financial services sector. Findings show that financial services decision makers overwhelmingly support the adoption of voluntary standards and believe such standards could help them navigate this highly regulated sector. More than two thirds of those surveyed called for more standards in finance around people (78 per cent), products (71 per cent) and processes (69 per cent), with the majority (54 per cent) favouring their creation by the industry as opposed to the regulator (23 per cent). 
 
Around the world there are calls for more intensive regulation of financial services, yet regulation requires resources and changes the nature of, or even reduces, competition. The report argues that voluntary standards markets, used widely in industries such as food and shipping, could be used more widely in financial services if regulators and legislators considered a third way for financial services regulation. While standards are already used in financial services they appear to be a relatively low user when compared to other sectors.
 
Scott Steedman, director of standards, BSI, says: “Given the mounting pressure on the financial services sector, Alderman Michael Mainelli’s excellent and timely report confirms that voluntary consensus standards could provide a valuable tool for the financial services community to share best practice in many areas of business, including products, processes and organisational development. Bringing consumers, the wider society and all stakeholders together to help create a trusted voluntary standards market in financial services, is a role that BSI as the National Standards Body is well placed to deliver.”
 
The report, prepared by financial services think tank Z/Yen Group, concludes that a new combined approach to regulation in the financial services sector will bring benefits through more rapid reform of the sector, lower costs of regulation and increased confidence in the financial system as a whole. It recognises the need to seize opportunities for the use of voluntary standards as part of new regulatory initiatives or reforms. 
 
Professor Michael Mainelli, one of the report’s authors, says: “Society naturally reacts to risks by wanting to eliminate or control them, but over-reaction can impair or ruin markets. In the right circumstances, rather than imposing onerous regulation or spouting unenforceable principles, using voluntary standards markets that bridge the market-government divide, can help us all make better decisions.”
 
The report recommends better coordination of existing voluntary standards development, more evidence of voluntary standards markets’ benefits and costs, and integration of voluntary standards with wider government policies. The report identifies many areas where voluntary standards are currently lacking, such as in anti-money laundering, qualified investor rules, or fiduciary ratings.

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