About the Transparency Task Force

The Transparency Task Force is the collaborative, campaigning community, dedicated to driving up the levels of transparency in financial services, right around the world.

It is clear that the Financial Services sector is profoundly important to the well-being of society as a whole but for it to achieve its true potential as a positive, enabling, securing, supporting force it needs to be trusted.

 

Trust is absolutely vital to financial services because the Sector deals with intangible offerings that are often future-orientated. Our products, services and solutions very often carry an intent, a promise to deliver, an expectation, a hoped-for outcome of some kind.

 

Think of the promissory clause printed on banknotes i.e. "I promise to pay the bearer the sum" or words to that effect. The entire financial services industry is built on ideas along the lines of ‘I promise’ and therefore the industry is dependent on trust.

 

However, for many reasons and in many ways the Sector’s reputation and therefore trustworthiness has been damaged, terribly. Numerous scandals and incidents of malpractice – perpetrated by rogue individuals (think Maxwell, Madoff et al); or dodgy behavior in particular organisations (think Equitable Life, Wells Fargo etc.); or entire parts of the market (think endowment mortgages, transfers out of Defined Benefit pension schemes, PPI and so on); and even complete market collapses that have led to a decade of austerity for innocent people (think the Global Financial Crisis); have all contributed to the erosion of confidence in Financial Services.

 

It could be argued that it would be totally rational for the general public to NOT trust the financial services industry – the public have, in effect, been educated to NOT trust financial services through the continuous drip, drip, drip of untrustworthy behaviour over a very long period of time.

 

Even after the mountains of money that have been spent by Governments (i.e.us taxpayers) on regulation, compliance and enforcement are we any more confident in the Financial Services Sector behaving better now than it did twenty, thirty or forty years ago? The evidence suggests, no, we're not. 

 

This is nothing less than a serious, systemic risk for society as a whole.

 

Many Governments want to transfer risk from the State to the individual (think retirement provision, healthcare provision and so on) yet the industry that is meant to facilitate this transference of responsibility isn't readily trusted. Perhaps this helps to explain why the UK is currently experiencing a record-breaking low in its savings ratio; it’s the worst it has been since 1963. That’s not good news. In fact, it’s a real worry. Think what this might mean in decades to come:

 

Maybe an entire generation will retire on lower levels of income than the generations that went before them? As a result, might they feel cheated by the system as a whole and the once-trusted institutions in some way? Maybe there’ll be many people too old to work but too poor to retire? Maybe there’ll be youngsters unable to find work because their seniors are still needing to work to generate income? Could this affect the fabric of society that binds us together in a civilised way? In a 'worst case' scenario perhaps there’s potential for inter-generational tensions, and even civil unrest?

 

Is the world's pensions crisis the worst manifestation of the lack of trust in financial services? 

 

There are so many 'wild variables' that nobody can be sure how all this will all play out. Nobody knows how society is going to respond to the financial stresses and strains it is likely to be experiencing in years to come - especially given the worryingly high levels of consumer debt and the likelihood of disappointment for many people from their Defined Contribution pension schemes that they may have started too late, contributed too little into, been invested in expensive funds with high and sometimes even hidden costs and charges. 

 

Whilst these issues are terribly complex and multi-faceted there’s one point that is as simple, straightforward and indubitable as can be - that it would be good if the Financial Services industry was predisposed to behave in a more trustworthy way.

 

But the harsh reality is that once trust has been lost it is far, far harder to regain than it would have been to have kept it in the first place. So, those of us that understand the profound importance of having a trustworthy Financial Services sector, who care about helping to achieve good, fair and sustainable outcomes for the people it is supposed to serve, ought to do all we can, together, to rebuild the trust that’s been lost. We should ‘stand up, not stand by’. 

 

However, we can’t make people trust us. All we can do is to collectively behave in a consistently, reliably and predictably trustworthy way. And what can help to do that? - being transparent.   

 

Transparency is important to rebuilding trust.

 

Transparency is both a cultural and a commercial virtue.

 

That’s why transparency can drive transformational change.

 

The Transparency Task Force is the collaborative, campaigning community, dedicated to driving up the levels of transparency in financial services, right around the world.

 

We seek to harness the transformational power of transparency to drive the change that consumers deserve and the reputation of the Financial Services sector so desperately needs. 

 

We believe that higher levels of transparency are a pre-requisite for fairer, safer, more stable and more efficient markets being able to deliver better value for money and better outcomes to consumers. 

 

Furthermore, because of the correlation between transparency, truthfulness and trustworthiness, we expect our work will help to repair the self-inflicted reputational damage the Financial Services sector has suffered for decades. 

 

The Transparency Task Force is unique in being made up of a truly pan-industry cross-section of individuals, trade bodies, thought leaders, academics, professional associations and so on; united by the desire to improve the way the Financial Services industry behaves through harnessing the transformational power of transparency.

 

As such we are well-placed to establish consensus that does not merely reflect the wishes of one particular ‘tribe’ or another - our purpose is aligned with what is best for the overall well-being of the sector and the markets it serves.

 

Given the enormity of the world's Financial Services sector and the way it continuously evolves it is virtually inconceivable that the task of achieving total transparency throughout it will ever be achieved; the task is akin to ‘painting the Forth Bridge’. As such the Transparency Task Force needs be a positive influence for a long, long time – decades in fact. Our journey will be a marathon not a sprint; the Transparency Task Force therefore needs to create a robust and stable commercial platform on which to build a solid, viable future for it to achieve its full potential as a ‘force for good’ over the long term. Any other approach would put its success in jeopardy and its task is too important for a needlessly risky approach to make any sense at all. 

 

So, we are now working hard on two very important fronts - campaigning for change through our nine volunteer Teams whilst also exploring how to best create the stable, secure and sustainable platform we need to know we can achieve our awesome potential as a 'force for good' for the decades ahead. 

'Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant'

 

That beautifully simple phrase sums up what the Transparency Task Force is all about. We believe that financial services market behaviour is improved when it is visible; and conversely, that behaviour that is allowed to hapen ‘in the shadows’ is often at the expense of the consumer.

 

This is because, rather notoriously, the Financial Services sector is pre-disposed to opportunistic obfuscation and opacity; it has profited from things being kept hidden from the consumer; sometimes deliberately, sometimes not - things like the true costs of investing, the true performance of products and the true risks of some products to the consumer. Asymmetries of information are a major concern, because they stop the market working competitively and because they prevent the consumer being able to make well-informed decisions.

Our Strategy for Driving Change

 

The Transparency Task Force seeks to operate in a collaborative, collegiate and consensus-building way; focusing on solutions not blame. We seek to effect the change that the industry needs and the consumer deserves. Our strategy for driving change is to bring together two types of people:

 

#1, Those with a sense of ‘passion & purpose’ about what needs to be done – such as ethically-minded financial services professionals, enlightened market participants, thought leaders, pro-consumer campaigners and leading academics who are involved in our community; and

 

#2, Those with the ‘power & position’ to make change happen – such as the regulators, politicians, financial services leaders, trade bodies and professional associations. 

How do we communicate and engage?

 

We have two main channels for communication and engagement:

 

Transparency Symposia

 

Our Transparency Symposia are thought leadership events designed to galvanise support for the idea that there ought to be greater transparency in financial services. They are a great way to define and share best practice and are characterised by engaging presentations, panel sessions and debates. Furthermore, they are an excellent way for people to learn about the work of the Transparency Task Force; many of the volunteers in our 9 Teams were motivated to get involved as a consequence of attending a Transparency Symposium.

 

We have expert speakers and industry commentators; plus, enlightened market participants, Regulators, Parliamentarians and so on becoming actively involved in discussing and debating the key issues. We always have a great deal of interest from the media and we have had tremendous coverage; not just amongst the financial services trade magazines - our work has even been written about in most of the main national newspapers and we have even appeared on the front page of the Financial Times!

 

The Transparency Times

 

We have been publishing an own online magazine, the Transparency Times, since May 2016. It now goes out to over 6,000 people and is available completely free of charge. It carries thought leadership articles that support the idea that greater transparency is needed in the financial services industry.

 

Contributors have included academics, politicians, market participants, Regulators and so on.

 

The button below takes you to the previous editions, including the very latest one:

To get in touch please Email andy.agathangelou@transparencytaskforce.org or call on +44(0)7501 460308. Thank you!

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