FSA hits bank with record £1m fine

The issue of mis-selling of income protection policies has again reared its ugly head after the FSA handed out its heaviest ever fine for the sale of payment protection insurance (PPI).

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has fined HFC Bank Ltd (HFC) £1,085,000 for failing to take reasonable care to ensure that the advice it gave customers to buy Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) was suitable, and for failing to have adequate systems and controls for the sale of PPI.

From January 2005 to May 2007, HFC's procedures did not require advisers in its branch network to gather sufficient information about customers' circumstances and take sufficient information into account when considering whether PPI was suitable.  HFC also did not require advisers to explain fully why they recommended a particular policy or identify to customers any demands and needs that the policy would not meet.  These and other failings meant that HFC put its customers at an unacceptable risk of being sold PPI when it was not suitable for them.

FSA Director of Enforcement Margaret Cole says: "We are determined to see  much better practice in the PPI market.  We announced in September that we would be imposing higher fines for serious failings in the retail market including against firms who fall short in relation to PPI.  The fine against HFC – the biggest PPI fine to date and first since our September announcement – is evidence of our determination in this area.  HFC's failings put its customers at risk of buying unsuitable protection insurance and the financial impact on them of unsuitable advice was likely to be significant."

In addition, the FSA found that as a result of HFC’s inadequate systems and controls:

  • it did not have effective systems to train and monitor its staff and failed to ensure that its procedures for monitoring sales staff effectively identified and investigated potentially unsuitable sales
  • management information provided to HFC's senior management was not sufficient to enable them to identify problems with the sale of PPI, and
  • its records were not sufficient to demonstrate its sales were suitable.

HFC's branch network (136 branches as at May 2007) provides secured and unsecured loans and sells PPI on an advised basis in connection with those loans.  Between January 2005 and May 2007 HFC sold PPI with 75% of the loans it provided, totalling 163,000 PPI policies (of which 124,000 were single premium policies sold with unsecured loans). HFC's customers largely had credit ratings which resulted in them having limited access to consumer finance.  Over this period HFC traded under the "Household Bank" and "Beneficial Finance" names.

Following discussions with the FSA, HFC has agreed to implement changes to its sales processes and has committed to a robust remedial action plan, overseen by third party accountants, involving a programme of customer contact and, if appropriate, steps to ensure that its customers are not disadvantaged.

By agreeing to settle at an early stage HFC has qualified for a 30% discount under the FSA's executive settlement procedures – without the discount the fine would have been £1,550,000.  The size of the fine reflects the FSA's announcement set out in its PPI thematic update in September 2007 that it would seek to increase the level of fines in PPI cases where this is warranted by the nature, seriousness and impact of the breach and by the likely impact on deterrence.

If taking out a new loan – check the alternatives before agreeing to a policy sold by a bank. They cannot make a loan conditional on you buying their insurance.

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