Conduct of financial institutions regime

4 August 2022

Current status

On 29 June 2022, the Financial Markets (Conduct of Institutions) Amendment Act 2022 (the Act) attained royal assent.  The Act is expected to fully come into force in early 2025.

The Act will introduce a new regime, requiring certain financial institutions to be licensed in respect of their general conduct towards consumers.  This licence will be a new type of market services licence with a similar licensing framework as that for other types of market services licenses.  The Act does this by inserting a new subpart 6A into the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 (FMCA).

The licensing regime will be monitored and enforced by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA).  The FMA has stated that licensing applications will open in mid-2023 and that it will consult with the industry ahead of this date to help entities prepare for the new regime.  Supporting regulations will also be developed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) prior to the Act coming into force.

On 20 July 2022, the FMA released a consultation paper proposing standard conditions to be imposed on the financial institution market service licenses.  This consultation closes on 7 September 2022.

This article summarises the background of the regime, the key provisions of the Act, the proposed standard conditions of the financial institution market service licenses and the next steps that will occur in regard to licensing and the development of regulations to support the operation of the new regime.

If you would like advice on the new regime or with preparing a submission, please contact a member of our financial services regulation team.

Background

Australian Royal Commission report

On 14 December 2017, the Australian Royal Commission (ARC) was established to investigate misconduct in the banking, superannuation, and financial services industry.  Over the course of 2018 and 2019, the ARC published an interim report and final report detailing poor treatment of customers across different parts of Australia’s financial services industry.

Financial Markets Authority and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand joint conduct and culture reviews

Misconduct cases in the UK, US, Australia, and other overseas jurisdictions raised concerns with the FMA and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), the two key regulators of New Zealand's financial markets, about whether the same issues could exist in New Zealand, especially as New Zealand’s four largest banks are Australian owned.

In response, the RBNZ and the FMA launched a joint review into the conduct and culture in the New Zealand financial sector and produced two reports:

  • The first report, published in November 2018, focused on retail banks. This found weaknesses in systems and processes as well as a small number of issues related to poor conduct by bank staff.  Consequently, the review recommended ways to improve oversight, controls, and processes
  • The second report, published in January 2019, focused on life insurers. The review found extensive weaknesses in life insurers' systems and controls such as in the approach of identifying, managing and remediating conduct risks and issues.  This contributed significantly to poor customer outcomes.  As insurers’ products are often sold by intermediaries, many insurers believed they had no responsibility for customer outcomes and made little effort towards consumer experience.  RBNZ and the FMA provided specific findings to each individual life insurer as well as general suggestions for improvement.

Both these reports focused on finding solutions to ensure sufficient levels of consumer confidence exist in New Zealand's financial system, and that confidence is both justified and sustainable.  While the reports did not find widespread conduct and culture issues in New Zealand, they highlighted issues in how conduct risk is managed and a lack of focus on customer outcomes.  It became evident there was a gap in how financial institutions are regulated in New Zealand.  This increases the potential for more widespread consumer harm in the long-term.

Regulatory review

MBIE public consultation

On 27 April 2019, MBIE announced a round of public consultation and released an accompanying options paper and consumer summary.  The consumer summary identified the following key problems:

  • An imbalance of power between financial institutions and consumers
  • Some products are not designed with good customer outcomes in mind
  • Sales are prioritised over good customer outcomes
  • There are weak systems and controls to manage conduct risk
  • There is a lack of accountability to ensure good conduct.

MBIE received 85 submissions for this consultation before submissions were closed on 7 June 2019.

Cabinet paper and regulatory impact statement

On 25 September 2019, in response to the RBNZ/FMA reviews, the public consultation and departmental consultations, the Minister for Commerce and Consumer Affairs proactively released a cabinet paper recommending legislation be introduced to address the real risk of harm to customers of financial institutions.  The document included the proposal to create a licensing regime for banks, insurers and non-bank deposit takers (NBDTs) in respect of their general conduct.

On 9 December 2019, MBIE also published a regulatory impact statement in regards to the proposed regulatory regime.

Legislative process

Bill introduced to Parliament

In December 2019, a further cabinet paper was proactively released seeking approval to introduce the Financial Markets (Conduct of Institutions) Amendment Bill (the Bill) into Parliament and seeking policy decisions.

On 11 December 2019, the Bill was introduced to Parliament.  On 12 February 2020, the Bill had its first reading.

Select Committee

The Bill was referred to the Finance and Expenditure Committee (FEC), which announced a round of public consultation that closed on 30 April 2020.  The select committee published its report on 7 August 2020.

The FEC's key recommendations included insertion of a regulation-making power that would allow regulations to be made that would exempt specified types of financial institutions from the requirement to hold a licence, an extension of the maximum transitional period for the Bill to come into force once it receives Royal assent (from two years to three years) and for there to be more clarity about the central, substantive, fair conduct principle set out in the Bill.

Consultations

In April 2021, MBIE released two discussions documents and announced an accompanying round of public consultation on these documents which closed on 18 June 2021:

  • Treatment of intermediaries under the new regime for the conduct of financial institutions
  • regulations to support the new regime for the conduct of financial institutions.
Consultation - Discussion document on the treatment of intermediaries of financial institutions

The Bill proposed placing requirements on financial institutions (eg banks, insurers and non-bank deposit takers) to oversee and train any intermediaries distributing or managing their products (eg mortgage or insurance brokers) to ensure good outcomes for consumers.

MBIE sought submissions on topics such as:

  • Compliance with the proposed oversight and training requirements being too expensive and resource-intensive
  • Certain obligations introduced being redundant as they may potentially overlap with or duplicate conduct regulation provisions created by the Financial Services Legislation Amendment Act 2019.

The discussion document sought feedback on matters such as the definitions of 'intermediaries', 'agents' and 'employees' of financial institutions.  The document also offered several proposals on the obligations of intermediaries, employees and agents.

Consultation - Discussion document on regulations

The Bill contained several regulation-making powers to support its operation, including powers to make regulations around the content and publication of fair conduct programmes, sales incentives and other discrete issues.

The discussion document sought feedback on matters such as the regulation of sales incentives offered or provided by financial institutions and intermediaries and details relating to the fair conduct programmes.

Key provisions of the Act

On 28 June 2022, the Bill had its third reading and was passed by Parliament.  On 29 June 2022, the Act attained royal assent.

The Act will:

  • Require banks, insurers and NBDTs (together, financial institutions) to be licensed in respect of their general conduct towards consumers.  The licensing regime will be monitored and enforced by the FMA
  • Require financial institutions to establish, implement and maintain effective fair conduct programmes throughout their businesses that ensure they meet the requirement to treat consumers fairly
  • Require financial institutions to comply with their fair conduct programme
  • Require financial institutions and intermediaries involved in the chain of distribution to comply with regulations that regulate incentives.  These regulations will be able to restrict sales incentives based on volume or value targets, eg soft commissions such as overseas trips, bonuses for selling a certain number of financial products, or leader boards.

Implementation of the Act

Addressing the Financial Markets Law conference on 25 July 2022, the FMA has stated that it will provide the industry guidance documents on financial institution licencing applications, the standard conditions of a financial institution licence and on fair conduct programmes prior to opening licence applications in mid-2023.

Consultation - Proposed standard conditions

On 20 July 2022, the FMA released a consultation paper proposing six standard conditions to be imposed on the licenses that all holders of financial institution licences and their authorised bodies will need to comply with.

The consultation paper sets out that the proposed standard conditions apply in respect of the financial institution service (ie the market service of acting as a financial institution) and are as follows:

Ongoing requirements
Financial institutions must continue to satisfy licence conditions at all times and (where relevant) maintain appropriate supervision over each authorised body.

Notification of material changes
In addition to existing notification obligations under the FMCA, financial institutions must notify the FMA within 10 working days of implementing a material change to the nature of its financial institution service (eg changing the form of business from a licenced NBDT to a registered bank might be considered a 'material change').

Regulatory returns
In addition to existing reporting obligations under the FMCA, financial institutions must provide certain information to the FMA information for monitoring purposes on a periodic or ongoing basis (for example, on the implementation/maintenance of the fair conduct programme or factual information such as the number of customers).

Outsourcing
The consultation paper sets out factors financial institutions should consider when outsourcing a process/system needed to provide their financial institution service (eg the experience of the outsource provider) and when negotiating outsourcing arrangements (eg access to provider's records).

This outsourcing condition does not apply to the parts of a financial institution service an entity outsources to an authorised body.

Business continuity and technology systems
Financial institutions must maintain and regularly test a business continuity plan that is appropriate for the scale and scope of their operations, supports their fair conduct programme and encompasses any outsource arrangements.

There are additional notification obligations under this proposed condition (eg notification must be made within 72 hours after discovery of a technology event that has a material adverse impact on consumers).

Record keeping
Financial institutions' records should include, amongst other things, how the financial institution has taken all reasonable steps to comply with its fair conduct programme.

More clarity on the scope of this obligation and the extent to which it overlaps with existing record-keeping obligations will be required from the FMA as the proposed conditions note that financial institutions already 'have various obligations to maintain records in relation to their activities'.

The consultation paper asks several questions about each proposed condition and includes a feedback form that anyone wishing to make a submission can fill out and return to the FMA.

The deadline for submissions on this consultation is 5pm on 7 September 2022.

Next steps

The Act notes that the new regime will come into force by Order in Council.  MBIE and the FMA have both stated that the new regime is planned to come into force in early 2025.

The commencement provisions of the Act note that any provision that has not already been brought into force will come into force 'on the third anniversary of the date of Royal assent' (ie on 29 June 2025).

The FMA has indicated that applications for licenses are expected to open in mid-2023 and that it will 'continue its established approach of open engagement and consultation with the industry' ahead of this date in order to 'prepare [the industry] for the new licensing requirements'.

MBIE will also develop the regulations required to support the operation of the new regime.  These will be developed following a further consultation process.

We regularly publish updates on developments relating to the new conduct of financial institutions regime.  Please subscribe to receive these updates.