Back at the start of January, I wrote a couple of blogs about what we should look for in the FCA Business Plan, particularly given its new Mission and the imperatives created by Brexit. The first of these was a more transparent and effective prioritisation.
It's still early to judge how the prioritisation of the Business Plan translates into practice, but it's possible to draw four provisional conclusions and then to suggest a couple of the wider implications these will have for firms and for the FCA itself.
First the conclusions:
1. The FCA has a good way to go to meet the transparency test. This is understandable - the incentives to be seen to cover effectively t he vast waterfront of its regulatory scope are powerful. However, in addition to the five Brexit priorities, the FCA has given itself over 30 cross sector priorities and more than 30 additional sector ones - a total in excess of 70. To emphasise again, it may be right to signal to the industry the range of risks and issues you care about but they're clearly not all priorities in the normal sense.
2. The FCA has prioritised in several different ways: Despite the above, it's clear from Andrew Bailey's introduction that some difficult choices have been made, although it's less obvious which haven't made the cut. There is nothing wrong with this from a regulatory point of view; predictability is generally a good thing in regulation, but it has limits, and a small measure of uncertainty about what the regulator is looking at is healthy for everyone.
What is also evident is that the FCA has also both front and rear-loaded the year's work. There are signs of this in the tables at the back and the reality is likely to be more pronounced. Finally, it is almost certain there will be a wider spectrum that usual in how heavily different priorities are resourced. For example, consumer credit will probably have more resource than last year, market supervision (among others) slightly less.
3. Events may come to dominate: Regulators tend to be good at dealing with events when they occur. However, the problem is that even if you can prevent almost of them from happening, it might not be good enough.
One consequence of Brexit prioritisation is that more supervisors (already heavily burdened) will be faced with making more judgements more quickly. It may only take a few extra of these to go wrong, even if they're small, to cause significant problems. If they do , it will not be because regulators have been asleep at the wheel, but a sign of the times.
4. It's worth focusing separately on the FCA's different functions: Each of these operates on multiple cycles of different length, often dictated by statute, and so a "priority" can mean a range of quite different things. I've drawn attention to this before but, at Business Plan time especially, it's easy to forget that the life cycle of a market study or major Policy change can easily be +5 years, and an Enforcement case +2 years, whereas Authorisation and Supervision typically operate in months.
For firms, it's worth thinking about Business Plan priorities in terms of layers, with those that have powerful external drivers - such as Brexit and (in banking) cyber and resilience - in the top tier.
For the regulator, this will clearly be a highly pressurised period, and the most difficult judgement will be the deceptively simple on of working out when it's trying to do too much. Pushing regulatory milestones down the track in order to make sure they're done well is not usually a problem for firms in itself, provided the decision doesn't come too late in the day.
Firms are being challenged by rapidly evolving user needs, as well as heightened uncertainty in the economic and political outlook. Our Business Plan shows how we will use our resources to tackle these challenges. Preparing for and implementing the changes resulting from European Union (EU) withdrawal is inevitably the priority for our discretionary activity.