Today the Treasury’s Future of Payments Review call for input draws to a close and in due course, Chairman Joe Garner will set out his recommendations on how the government can deliver world-leading retail payments.
The regulation of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products and services continues to demonstrate the intense political scrutiny of retail payment journeys and consumer finance more broadly.
Despite some progress made by the Government, a timeline implementing secondary legislation to bring this interest-free BNPL option under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulator remains unclear. Recent speculation over the Government’s delay has prompted fresh concern, particularly amongst Labour politicians, that regulation will be hindered and that consumers will potentially be put at risk.
This delay is said to be driven by a desire from ministers to maintain consumer choice on interest-free consumer credit products during the cost of living crisis and ensure providers stay in the UK market. If speculation is to be believed, this approach is symptomatic of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s overarching ambition to drive economic growth and market competition.
The draft secondary legislation, through the Financial Services and Markets Act, is supported by the FCA, with its Chief Executive, Nikhil Rathi recently informing the Treasury Select Committee that legislation is required to prevent consumer harm. And leading market players, such as Klarna have also called publicly for proportionate regulation of the sector.
Labour have looked to exploit the delay to demonstrate a commitment to consumer protection – a hallmark of their positioning in the lead up to the General Election. And in a recent letter to the City Minister Andrew Griffith, Shadow City Minister Tulip Siddiq reiterated that Labour would work with industry to regulate the BNPL sector, having previously raised amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Act on the undertaking of credit checks, access to the Financial Ombudsman and consumer protection under the Consumer Credit Act.
This continued political scuffle over the shape and timing of BNPL regulation creates uncertainty for the market. Yet despite this uncertainty, there is an opportunity for BNPL providers to establish themselves as a partner to government, help to shape what “good” looks like and show progress on self-regulation.
Our recent research found that 42% of MPs cite evidence of consumer outcomes as the biggest factor in informing their policy decision making and 44% want to see consumer data and insight, so providing evidence of good consumer outcomes is key for the BNPL sector. In the pre-election period, it will be crucial to strike a balance between showing commitment to the market while highlighting that consumer care is at the heart of all operations.