The European Union’s plans to boost market-based financing for its flagging economy risks harming consumers unless there is more emphasis on investor protection, Britain’s top markets regulator said on Monday.
The 28-country bloc wants to create a capital markets union (CMU) that makes it easier for companies to raise funds on stock and bond markets rather than rely mostly on bank lending, as many companies in Europe still do at present.
Martin Wheatley, chief executive of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which regulates the EU’s biggest market, said the plans have not struck the right balance between going for growth and protecting investors.
The FCA was launched in 2013 to better protect investors after the financial crisis highlighted supervisory failings.
The EU proposals, put out to public discussion last month, aim to boost securitisation, or selling bonds based on pooled loans such as mortages, a market tarnished in the crisis.
“It is an imperative … that this is a conversation that also incorporates debates in the conduct space, which is where the current balance appears to fall away somewhat,” Wheatley told a market financing event at Chatham House.
Failing to address consumer protection is not viable in the long term as the CMU won’t succeed if profit becomes the main driver of behaviour as it was in the run-up to the financial crisis, he said.
While the CMU is an EU initiative, domestic regulators like the FCA should be able to protect consumers such as by restricting marketing or curbing the offer of new products to specific consumers, he said.
A wider debate on better ways to communicate about products and services in financial services was also needed, Wheatley said.
“Over-stimulating demand without mechanisms that ensure clear understanding of the product, its risks and its opportunities, invites the prospect of bringing investors to the market, many uninformed, and simply creating avoidable consumer detriment,” Wheatley said.
The CMU seeks to encourage new ways of funding companies, such as crowd funding, but Wheatley said broader consumer protection in this emerging sector was also not being addressed.
“And not just for the benefit of consumers, but for the wider growth potential of the industry itself, which will not want to be bedevilled by damaging stories of investor loss in the years ahead,” he said.
Jonathan Hill, the EU's new financial services commissioner, announced he will set out his plans for a pan-European capital market by the middle of 2015.
The objective is to create an integrated market for raising money through bonds, shares and other financial instruments over the next five years.
Officials say a capital markets union would also mean the EU moving beyond public subsidies and loans to coordinate financing for companies and infrastructure through project bonds, public-private partnerships and infrastructure funds.
Hill said his first steps would be to push a proposal for European long-term investment funds for infrastructure and businesses, to develop a framework for securitisation and to carry out analysis of private placements - the sale of securities to a small number of chosen institutional investors.