In the depths of the financial crisis, the EU is talking about community-wide financial supervision. In this issue, consumer representatives should have a genuine possibility of exerting their influence. The idea of guaranteeing basic banking services for citizens has also gained foothold.
EU level legislation should be passed on basic banking services for the citizens, the Finnish Consumer Agency noted to the EU Commission in a public hearing on this issue. The Agency explained the situation in Finland, where national legislation already exists on basic banking services.
Basic banking services comprise a current account and a cash card. A shortcoming that still remains in the basic services guaranteed by the Finnish law is that a real-time debit card and on-line banking ID are not within its scope. A bank may refuse to provide these to a consumer with a bad credit record, even if they cannot be used to exceed your bank balance.
Indebted consumers are also asked to pay higher service fees. In Finland, banking fees are considerably smaller when using on-line banking than when visiting a branch. And as the number of e-invoices that can only be processed by on-line banking goes up, the amount of service fees indebted consumers are asked to pay increases accordingly.
On the other hand, it is vital to also have legislation to safeguard basic services for those citizens who are unable to use on-line banking services, such as many elderly people.
The consumers' voice should be heard in financial supervision
The Finnish Act on the Financial Supervisory Authority is about to be amended. The objective of this amendment is to incorporate in the Act the impacts of the future European financial supervision mechanism on the activities of the Finnish Financial Supervisory Authority.
Coordinated EU level financial supervision merits support. The legal position of customers should not become more vulnerable, however, nor should the possibilities of consumer representatives to exert an influence on legislation be undermined, the Finnish Consumer Agency stressed in its statement to the Ministry of Finance.
Under current legislation, the Consumer Ombudsman and the Financial Supervisory Authority consult each other before introducing more stringent control measures. No changes are at the moment proposed in this procedure. In national supervision, the consumer perspective will continue to be taken into consideration.
At the European level, it seems that the possibilities of the Consumer Ombudsman to exert influence in the drafting of new regulations will be reduced. The draft states that the Board of the Financial Supervisory Authority should hear consumer representatives about the objectives of supervision, their implementation and the budget. According to the Finnish Consumer Agency, a hearing that mainly takes place at the level of annual reports is not adequate.
The Finnish Consumer Agency finds it necessary to put in place a centralised, EU level supervision mechanism. Improving customer protection in particular is crucial. Despite the good starting points of the proposal, there is a risk that procedures that work at the practical level will not be introduced for improving the legal position of consumers. When national Ministries and Parliaments are given less scope in drafting regulations, the opportunities of parties that are heard in the national legislative process, such as consumer authorities, to exert influence are also undermined.
Setting up so-called stakeholder groups that work inside the European supervisory authorities is not adequate. A procedure ensuring that consumer representatives are heard at such an early stage that achieving changes in the contents of regulation is still possible should also be created at the national level.
KUV 9648/48/2010, 7554/48/2010