What does the TTF do?
The Transparency Task Force undertakes a broad range of activities to raise awareness of the lack of transparency in financial services; and how through collaboration people can work together to help put things right.
There is a tremendous sense of purpose about our work because we truly understand the profoundly important part that an efficient, fair, competitive and trusted financial services industry around the world could and should play in helping to create financial security and prosperity for all.
Our efforts are always constructive and solution-orientated - we see no value in simply looking for culprits to blame. Instead, we seek to identify real problems that we can offer real, pragmatic and implementable solutions to.
Week by week momentum continues to build. We have come a long way since the idea of a collaborative, campaigning community dedicated to driving up the levels of transparency in financial services was first discussed. The idea was first put forward at a meeting on Friday 5th December - a meeting between Dr Chris Sier (then Managing Director at KAS Bank and the former Chair of the FCA's Institutional Disclosure Working Group), Con Keating (Head of Research at Brighton Rock Group) and Andy Agathangelou, now Founder of the Transparency Task Force.
The TTF can be proud that despite enormous resource constraints we now have a highly effective programme of activity designed to drive up the levels of transparency in financial services, right around the world.
Here's what we do:
1. We run Transparency Symposia
We run thought leadership events, called Transparency Symposia. The overall purpose of our Transparency Symposia is to ‘win hearts and minds’ to galvanise support for the idea that there ought to be greater transparency in financial services. They work extremely well for us.
Each Transparency Symposium typically has between 40 to 80 people in attendance, a cracking line-up of speakers including thought leaders, enlightened market participants, subject-matter experts, academics, the leaders of closely-aligned advocacy groups, regulators and politicians.
Our events are well known for being highly participative with lots of candid discussion and debate. They are often deliberately challenging and edgy; but are always constructive and never just a ‘whinge-fest’. Our Transparency Symposia 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; that’s extremely important because many of the volunteers in our Special Interest Groups were motivated to get involved as a consequence of attending a Transparency Symposium.
Our events ogten attract a great deal of interest from the media and we have had great press 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; more on that later.
2. We award the Transparency Trophy
The Transparency Trophy is a top-quality transparent star, awarded to a winner at each of our Transparency Symposia. Winners get to keep their Transparency Trophy. The star-shape is significant. People can navigate across seas using the stars so the star shape has been chosen to symbolise the idea that the winners are helping to navigate the industry towards a more transparent, competitive and enlightened state.
3. We operate Special Interest Groups
The TTF has attracted over 1,100 volunteers who have been organised and mobilised into Special Interest Groups.
They are very much the ‘engine room’ of our campaigning activity and are for ethically and professionally-minded people who believe that those of us who truly care about the importance of the Financial Services sector and the people it serves can, and should, work together to help put things right.
The TTF Teams are a manifestation of the wisdom within the famous Margaret Mead quote:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has".
Our volunteers are a consensus-building 'coalition of the willing', working together to be 'part of the solution'. Each team is focused on a particular set of transparency-related issues and desired outcomes.
The Special Interest Groups are not just ‘talking-shops’ or a ‘whinge-fests’ – they pragmatically undertaking work that can, will and already has made a difference.
We are proud that over 1,100 people have responded positively to our clarion call for help by becoming active agents for change within our collaborative, campaigning community.
Each Special Interest Group has at least one campaign project underway, designed to harness the transformational power of transparency to drive the much-needed change that the consumer deserves and the reputation of the Sector needs. All SIGs have a quarterly conference call to discuss objectives and strategy to implement.
Very importantly, in addition to our 1,100 volunteers the TTF Teams have over 30 individuals involved as observers from several UK government and regulatory departments including people at:
- The Department for Work and Pensions
- The Financial Conduct Authority
- The Pensions Regulator
- The Competition & Markets Authority
- The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
- The Financial Reporting Council
- The Government Actuarial Department
- The Money and Pensions Service
- These important organisations are kept abreast of developments.
4. We campaign to gather Transparency Statements
We are continuously campaigning to gather Transparency Statements. Transparency Statements are a great way for people to show support for our cause and to align them and their organisations with our objective to encourage greater transparency in financial services, right around the world.
Transparency Statements always begin with the words:
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because...”
…and are completed in whatever way the individual wants to expresses their point of view.
Here are a few great examples, from many:
Asset Management Correspondent | Financial Times
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because people need to be able to trust those responsible for managing their money."
Tom Tugendhat MBE MP
Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because it is the only way that markets can function without distortion to the benefit of the true customer, the
Former Chair | The Investment Association
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because it's the very starting point for establishing trust."
Dr. Kara Tan Bhala
President and Founder | Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because transparency is a pro-ethical condition that enables us to fulfil our fiduciary duty and to achieve justice and the common good. Assiduous transparency yields continuous trust.”
Former Shadow Pensions Minister, now Shadow Secretary of State for Education
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because pension funds should be run with a constant eye on efficiency – every penny should be accounted for therefore costs must be transparent and easy to understand – they must be explainable without jargon. The duty is to pay pensions and ensure that the sponsoring employers enjoy the benefits of reduced costs, we must avoid funds entering the Pension Protection Fund, it should be the last option.”
Chief Executive | CFA Society of the UK
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because it contributes to the establishment of trust which can improve consumer outcomes. To date, the focus has been on costs and performance, but the investment profession and its stakeholders would also benefit from an improved understanding of the purpose of investment and from the processes employed on their behalf.”
Editor | Corporate Advisor
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because opacity is to journalists what a red rag is to a bull. As long as things are hidden, trust in the industry will remain low.”
Founding Chair | Transparency Task Force
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because it holds the key to regaining the trust of the consumer, delivering value-for-money and operating a competitive market”.
Director, First Actuarial & Founder | Pension PlayPen
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because people want to know what they’re buying. We cannot be trusted. Our system depends on trust and fiduciaries managing our money. Until people consider themselves investing in a trustworthy way we will remain untrusted. Transparency is the only way to break this vicious circle.”
Margaret Snowdon OBE
Chairman | Pensions Administration Standards Association
“I believe there ought to be higher levels of transparency in financial services because it is the best way we can restore public trust in pensions.”
5. We publish The Transparency Times
The Transparency Times is our free monthly online magazine.
It contains thought leadership articles on a wide range of subjects from a broad range of authors including academics, progressive market participants, politicians, aligned campaigners, representatives of civil society groups and so on.
The overall message delivered is about how the transformational power of transparency can be a force for good in getting the Financial Services Sector to provide the best possible outcomes to those it serves.
Articles are often edgy and challenging because our contributors are free to ‘tell it as they see it’. Because of the unique nature of the Transparency Task Force we are completely free of the commercial influences that can contaminate the editorial decisions made by other publishers. The significance of that point really shouldn’t be under-appreciated, given how enormously influential the commercial interests and conflicts of interest in the financial services sector are.
Quite rightly, the Transparency Times is developing a reputation as a courageous and hard-hitting voice of reason, shining a light on contentious topics that might otherwise never see the light of day. We are very deliberately using the Transparency Times as a very powerful and very bright light, shining into the sometimes damp, squalid, dark and dingy shadows within the nooks and crannies of the financial services sector.
In line with our stated mission we are exposing opacity wherever it occurs, knowing that by doing so we enable the magical curative characteristics of the ‘Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant” dynamic to ‘do its thing’.
The Transparency Times already goes to over 6,000 people and circulation is increasing all the time. Its readers are not just in the UK, they are also in:
The Transparency Times is absolutely crucial to achieving our objectives on a global basis – we have a vision to drive up circulation to over 1,000,000 people.
6. We respond to formal Consultations
The Transparency Task force has formally responded to:
- The Pension Regulator’s Consultation Paper on The 21st Century Trustee
- The Financial Conduct Authority’s Consultation Paper on Transaction Costs in Workplace Pensions
- The Financial Conduct Authority’s Asset Management Market Study
- The Investment Association’s Costs Disclosure Code
- The Global FX Code
- The European Union’s Consultation on Sustainable Finance
Our responses are produced in a unique way - once we decide that we wish to formally respond to a Consultation Paper we reach out to members of our Teams that are relevant to the topic, seeking volunteers to form a Response Team and work together in a collaborative, collegiate and co-operative way. Volunteers are very often subject-matter experts with valuable insight and experience.
Furthermore, we know that the TTF is rather unique in being ‘tribe-less’ i.e. we do not simply represent the commercial agenda of a particular organization or the perspective of a particular trade body or professional association. We’re way beyond that and therefore tend to provide a Consultation Response that is truly consensus-based, pragmatic, mainstream and free of extreme views in any direction.
We believe our consensus-based views are recognised as being free of commercial and political influence and our collective voice is therefore given the respect it deserves.
Interestingly, if ever there is disagreement amongst the Response Team the issue is always easily resolved with what we call the ‘North Star question’ that guides all our work.
Here’s our ‘North Star question’:
“Taking everything into account, what’s best for the consumer?”
It’s a wonderfully powerful question that has always provided swift direction and consensus; and helped to nip potentially harmful division ‘in the bud’. It’s a clever question because it is difficult to defend a position that is not aligned with what is best for the consumer. We find ourselves having to ask that question less and less, because everybody in our community understands that all our work including all our Consultation Responses are aligned to what’s best for the consumer.
Logically, people with an agenda that is different to promoting what is best for the consumer tend not to volunteer to be part of our Response Teams, so it’s a self-sorting approach.
7. We produce White Papers
Thus far, the Transparency Task Force has produced three significant Thought Leadership White Papers:
Firstly, our Costs & Charges Team produced a White Paper all about the costs and charges (including hidden costs and charges) that impact investors including pension savers. It was presented at a special meeting held in London on 1st July 2016, to over 40 people including senior representatives of:
- The Department for Work and Pensions
- The Financial Conduct Authority
- The Pensions Regulator
- The Association of Member-Nominated Trustees
- Her Majesty’s Treasury
- The London Business School
- The Pensions Management Institute
- The True & Fair Campaign
- The Investment Association
- The ABI
- The Pensions Advisory Service
- The Financial Services Consumer Panel
The White Paper and the extensive ground-breaking Primary Research that supported it (that took more than a year to complete) was so impactful that it made the front page of the Financial Times. We believe its content may have been noticed by Regulators.
Furthermore, the content of the White Paper formed the basis of a very special meeting entitled “The First Transparency Strategy Summit in the World” which was held at The House of Commons on 12th September 2016. The Summit was a Transparency Task force event, Co-Chaired between Tom Tugendhat MBE MP (the Conservative Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling) and Andy Agathangelou, TTF’s Founding Chair.
The meeting had a specific primary purpose:
“The primary purpose of the first Transparency Strategy Summit in the world is to begin to build consensus on the best way to protect the interests of the UK’s pensions-saving public through full disclosure on all the costs and charges they are paying but not being told about”.
The meeting was highly successful and led to significant dialogue with Regulators, Parliamentarians, Trade Bodies and Professional Associations. It also led to the TTF producing a successful Open Letter to Frank Field MP, the highly respected Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee. The letter highlighted the issue of hidden costs and charges adversely impacting pension savers.
The letter was succesful - the enquiry we asked for was opened in Septembe 2018 and TTF gave evidence.
Secondly, our Banking Team produced a White Paper entitled “Free if in credit: mis(ing) information” all about the TTF’s reform proposals to encourage the Banks to present information about their accounts in a more transparent way, particularly in relation to costs and charges when customers fall into unauthorised overdraft. The White Paper was presented at a special Transparency Task Force meeting held at the House of Commons on 26th June 2016. The meeting was Co-Chaired by Lord Cromwell and Andy Agathangelou, Founding Chair of the Transparency Task Force.
The audience was made up of significant influencers and decision-makers from relevant organisation including:
- The Banking Standards Board
- The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
- The Nationwide Building Society
- The Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation
- The Community Savings Bank Association,
- Responsible Finance
- The Financial Inclusion Commission
- The Advertising Association
- Barclays Bank
- The Royal Bank of Scotland
- The Financial Conduct Authority
- The Group of Experts on Risk Management in Regulatory Systems
- Greater London Mutual
- The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking
- The Fair Banking Foundation
- The British Bankers Association
- Starling Bank
- The Federation of Small Business
- Triodos Bank
- The Competition & Markets Authority
- Specialist Banking Magazine
The event was covered by The Times and has initiated worthwhile dialogue with the Chairmen of major Banks amongst others.
Thirdly, our Foreign Exchange Team produced a White Paper entitled “Defining what Transparency Means in the Wholesale Global FX Market”, a hard-hitting critique of the shortcomings of the Global FX Code, which is a worthwhile step in the right direction but disappoints significantly compared to the potential it had to drive true transparency into the terribly opaque FX market.
The White Paper drew acknowledgement and a published response from both Dr. Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the Competition & Markets Authority and also Stephen Barclay MP, Economic Secretary to The Treasury.
8. We hold meetings with Regulators and Government Officials
As part of our campaigning activity we have held numerous meetings with government-related individuals including senior representatives at The Financial Conduct Authority, The Department for Work & Pensions and The Competition & Markets Authority.
We have also held a meeting with The Pensions Minister.
Furthermore, the TTF has ongoing dialogue with several Members of Parliament from all the major political parties. Please note that The Transparency Task Force is not politically-aligned.
These meetings have all been been great opportunities for us to articulate our view that much greater transparency is needed in the financial services sector. We have always felt listened to. In keeping with the TTF approach we are always collegiate and constructive – always proposing pragmatic solutions to the problems we have identified.
9. We achieve campaign publicity through the Media
We have worked hard to develop first class relationships with key media channels.
The net result has been phenomenal coverage for our various campaign initiatives.
We have had coverage in National Newspapers including The Financial Times, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Mirror.
We have had extensive and regular coverage in all the main trade magazines and journals for whom we have become the go-to-source for comment on transparency-related issues. We have appeared in Professional Pensions, Pensions Expert, Money Marketing, Financial Adviser, Corporate Adviser, Engaged Investor, Portfolio Adviser, Pensions & Investments, Euromoney, Pensions World, Financial News, Responsible Investor, Pensions Age, CityWire, Ftfm, IPE and Which?, the consumer magazine.
Furthermore, we have been interviewed twice on BBC Radio 4; once on the ‘You and Yours’ programme and once on ‘Moneybox’; both as a result if our ground-breaking research on costs and charges in pensions and investment, including hidden costs.
For an organisation without any resource whatsoever and without anybody working for us in a press or PR capacity we are rightly pleased with the coverage we get.
10. We speak at Conferences
Any Agathangelou, The Founding Chair of the Transparency Task Force is routinely asked to speak at all the major financial services conferences in the UK, run by the major financial services publications and also the main Trade Bodies and Professional Associations.
Andy has even spoken overseas, at Fund Forum Asia, held in Hong Kong (as well as at our own Transparency Symposium held in Boston on 28th September 2016)
These speaking engagements provide tremendous publicity for the cause and no doubt are helping to positively shift industry expectations around the need for greater transparency.
In addition, Andy attends many industry events and always seizes the opportunity to make points and ask questions that help to raise awareness of our work.
11. We recruit Ambassadors
Our Ambassadors individuals who are particularly well aligned to the overall purpose and mission of the Transparency Task Force, and have agreed to do what they can, when they can, to further the cause for greater transparency in financial services.
They are true professionals; people who have accepted the responsibility of standing up for the cause for greater transparency in financial services when they can, however they can.
Furthermore, Ambassadors can provide support and leadership in many useful ways; for example, as a sounding board, as wise counsel, by providing constructive challenge, as a mentor and through the on-going development of TTF's overall strategy.
We are rightly proud of and extremely grateful to our Ambassadors.
12. We continuously grow our audience and our community
Clearly, the more people we are able to communicate with the greater influence we can have. We therefore spend a great deal of time and effort continuously growing our audience and our community through word of mouth, online research, introductions, networking at events and so on.
Also, we are able to make great use of social media platforms as an efficient and cost-effective way to grow our sphere of influence.
Here’s what we’re planning:
|Now||By 2020||By 2030|
|Transparency Times; circulation & frequency||6,000 monthly||100,000 weekly||1,000,000 weekly|
|Volunteers in TTF Teams||250+||500+||1,000+|
|TTF Consultation Responses/WhitePapers||4 p.a.||24 p.a.||240 p.a.|
|Transparency Symposia||9 p.a.||24 p.a.||240 p.a.|
|Influence and impact on policymakers||Some, mostly UK||Some, worldwide||Lots, worldwide|
Whilst ambitious, because of the effectiveness of 'goodwill marketing' through social media the above objectives are totally achievable.
Please do what you can to help us connect with people that are aligned with our overall purpose.
Finally, if this page has left you concluding that you are aligned in some way with our aims and objectives please get in touch.
The Great Divide
You can read the speech by Andrew G. Haldane, FAcSS (the Bank of England's Chief Economist and Executive Director of Monetary Analysis and Statistics) that he gave on 18th May 2016 at the New City Agenda Annual dinner.
The speech is entitled The Great Divide and it is a first class explanation of why the trust deficit really matters and why it makes sense to try to do something about it.
Please click on the green button to access it; if you're not convinced of its relevance to our initiative, here's part of it:
..."The most important and compelling message the Bank received at the Open Forum came in the first session. The Bank had conducted some polling of perceptions of the financial sector – for example, by asking people what one word best described the future of financial markets. Among the Bank’s usual contacts, including those in the financial sector, the most used word was “regulated”. Many of us will have heard that message from financial insiders concerned about the perils of over-zealous regulators.
For me, the more revealing responses came from the general public, from the customers, rather than the producers, of financial services. The word most used by them when describing financial markets was a rather different one: it was “corrupt”. Not far behind were words like “manipulated”, “self-serving”, “destructive” and “greedy”. I am sure many of you have heard those messages too. They are certainly ones I have encountered frequently on my visits around the country."...
Please click the green button below to access the full speech. If you need to read another piece first, here it is:
..."At least until recently many economists like me, when faced with this evidence, might have shrugged our shoulders. Social capital had no real role in our models of economic growth, unlike physical capital and human capital. Trust did not butter our parsnips and nor did it enter our production functions.
Recently, however, that orthodoxy has changed and the importance of trust has become clearer.
Evidence has emerged, both micro and macro, to suggest trust may play a crucial role in value creation. At the micro level, there is now ample evidence the degree of trust or social capital within a company contributes positively to its value creation capacity.
At the macro level, there is now a strong body of evidence, looking across a large range of countries and over long periods of time, that high levels of trust and co-operation are associated with higher economic growth.
Put differently, a lack of trust jeopardises one of finance’s key societal functions – higher growth.
Those social capital effects appear to be particularly potent when it comes to financial decisions. Evidence suggests that a lack of trust leads people to retreat from the stock market and banks and to move towards cash holdings and informal sources of credit, such as payday lenders and loan sharks. That jeopardises the second key benefit of finance to society – improved risk-sharing by households and companies.
So a lack of trust in finance potentially hobbles both economic growth and financial stability.
That lack of trust is the mirror-image of the perception gap between the financial sector and wider society, the Great Divide.
The Great Divide matters because it signals a pronounced and protracted erosion of social capital. It puts finance on notice for losing its social licence. And, unaddressed, that jeopardises future wealth and well-being."...
Please click on the green button to access the full speech. If you're not yet convinced you should, here's a final snippet:
..." As a survey in 2013 of financial professionals found, rather remarkably, that over half believed their competitors engaged in illegal or unethical behaviour. A smaller, but still high, fraction of 24% believed their own company engaged in such practices. Similar percentages believed their industry did not fulfil its fiduciary function of putting clients’ interests first.
The significance of these findings is not the precise percentages, as striking as these are.
More fundamentally, it is because of what they reveal about finance’s perception of itself, the mirror it holds to the social identity of finance."...
Click onto the button below to access the full speech; you'll be glad you did, it's profoundly thought-provoking for anybody interested in the future of the financial services industry:
If you are not already on the right page and want to read about our major international project to help rebuild trustworthiness and confidence in financial services, click on the orange button below: