The Financial Conduct Authority has fined both Credit Suisse International (CSI) and Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) for financial promotions failings.
The FCA concluded that financial promotions for CSI’s Cliquet Product (3) were not clear or fair and were misleading. CSI was fined £2,398,100 and YBS £1,429,000.
The Cliquet Product was designed by CSI to provide capital protection and a guaranteed minimum return with the potential for significantly more if the FTSE 100 performed consistently well. The probability of achieving only the minimum return was 40-50% and the probability of achieving the maximum return was close to zero.
Despite this, the FCA said CSI and YBS promotional material marketed the potential maximum return on the product as a key feature.
The target market for the Cliquet Product was described by CSI as 'stepping stone customers' who were conservative and risk averse. The product was typically sold to unsophisticated investors with limited investment experience and knowledge through a number of distributors. Over 83,000 customers invested a total of £797,380,716 in the product. YBS was responsible for approximately 75% of the total invested.The maximum return figure was given undue prominence in both CSI’s brochures, which YBS approved and provided to their clients, and in YBS’s own financial promotions, some of which also did not clearly explain how returns were calculated.
Tracey McDermott, FCA director of enforcement and financial crime said: 'It is crucial that firms consider the needs of their customers from the time that products are being designed through to their marketing and sale.
'The information provided to customers forms an important part of this. Financial promotions are often the primary source of information for consumers and in this case CSI and YBS let their customers down badly. These promotions were a serious breach of the requirement to be clear, fair and not misleading.'
'CSI and YBS knew that the chances of receiving the maximum return were close to zero but they nevertheless highlighted this as a key promotional feature of the product. This was unacceptable.'
In September 2010, following concerns raised by third parties such as consumer watchdog Which?, YBS changed its marketing so undue prominence was no longer given to the potential maximum return. However, YBS continued to cite the potential maximum return and to give an unfair impression of the likelihood of achieving it. CSI also reviewed its promotions in response to the third parties’ concerns, but decided not to change its product brochure significantly.
In addition, the FCA found that CSI failed to have a procedure in place for a complete review of their long-running promotions on a periodic basis. If CSI’s processes had included such a review, this may have resulted in the problems with the product brochure being remedied earlier.
Both firms agreed to settle at an early stage of the FCA’s investigation and therefore received a 30% settlement discount. Today’s fines are the first time that the FCA has taken action against both the manufacturer of a product and its distributor simultaneously.