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Financial Inclusion Commission hosts first Financial Inclusion Virtual Summit

The Financial Inclusion Commission was delighted to host its first Financial Inclusion Virtual Summit on 15th February 2022. Joined by 145 guests across the financial services, government, not-for-profit and academic sectors, the Conference heard from speakers, such as Rt Hon John Glen MP, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and Sir Hector Sants.

In a video address, John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to HM Treasury reiterated his commitment to a financially inclusive United Kingdom, noting “financial inclusion and how we maximise access to financial products” as one of his highest ministerial priorities. The Minister also noted his view that financial inclusion is “integral” to the Government’s Levelling Up agenda. Sir Hector Sants, Chair of the Money and Pensions Service, echoed these comments on the importance of financial inclusion, while highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on personal finances and outlining MaPS National Strategy for Financial Well-being. 

Attendees were also able to hear from and question Theodora Hadjimichael, CEO of Responsible Finance and Eric Leenders, Director of Personal Finance at UK Finance on the topic of the UK’s Financial Inclusion Road to Recovery following COVID-19. In the Q&A session, vital topics, such as, connectivity between service providers were raised. 

The Commission wishes to thank all our Conference speakers and guests for their contributions to the Conference and is looking forward to welcoming guests again to its follow-up events over the coming weeks.

The Commission responds to the W&P consultation on Protecting Pension Savers

The Commission has submitted its response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into ‘Protecting Pension Savers: Saving for Later Life’. The Commission exposes, for the first time, the wide disparities in the financial position different groups of people will find themselves in when they reach retirement. Most people expect the same – positive – outcome from very different inputs. Many will be disappointed. At the crux of the issue: many peoples’ expectations of their post-retirement lifestyle are rising, while their likely outcomes are falling. 

Whilst we believe that the age limits and minimum earnings levels for automatic enrolment should be reduced, as they deprive many low paid employees of an employer’s contribution, we think it unlikely that an increase in total ‘automatic’ contributions, to bring likely outcomes in line with expectations, will be possible in the next 5 years. So, unless something is done to get people more connected, many are ‘sleepwalking’ into a much worse situation than they expect. It’s not just the new generation of people automatically enrolled. Many people who could get higher ‘employer matched’ contributions do not take them up – often giving up the chance to get £3 of value for £1 of contributions.

As part of our constructive and research-based response, the Commission suggested two solutions to this pensions time-bomb facing the UK. First, a major campaign effort is needed to change the nation’s retirement saving attitude, which remains largely as it was in the 20th century. A properly costed and powerful campaign to create a lightbulb ‘moment’ aimed at the 30 million Britons in work, will help those currently sleepwalking into tough financial situations in later life to understand where they stand and what can be done to improve their likely retirement outcomes. Second, a fresh review, similar to that carried out to such effect by the Pensions Commission, is needed to achieve a consensus on the situation. The last comprehensive analysis from the Pensions Commission is quickly reaching 20 years old. A new review is recommended to prevent the nationwide sliding – incomprehensively – into inadequate pension saving.

The Commission welcomes any opportunities to work and collaborate further on the subject with the Committee and other stakeholders.

You can find our full response here.

Financial Inclusion must be integral to FCA work says Financial Inclusion Commission and Fair by Design campaign

The Financial Inclusion Commission and Fair By Design is calling on the Government to introduce a statutory commitment for the FCA to take into account financial inclusion across the board as part of the Future Financial Regulatory Framework Review.

The Commission and Fair By Design believe that everybody should have access to financial products and services that meet their needs over the course of their lifetime. For this to happen the market needs to be able to accommodate the specific needs of people on low incomes and with certain characteristics, such as those with a physical disability or experiencing poor mental health – regularly referred to as consumer vulnerabilities. However, the market has evolved so that those who often have the least resources and are most vulnerable:

  • struggle to afford, or pay extra for, appropriate products and services because they are deemed to be a higher risk/not as desirable to serve;
  • are not able to access products and services that meet their needs because they are deemed to be ‘non-standard’;
  • are excluded altogether.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has a range of powers and tools that it uses to regulate the market. These include its statutory objectives as well as the Treating Customers Fairly outcomes and its Public Sector Equality Duty. Despite all of this, it still does not have a clear duty or cross-cutting ‘must have regard’ provision to tackle financial inclusion. The new FCA Consumer Duty will not address this issue either.

We want a clearer remit placed on the regulator to ensure it routinely and properly explores financial inclusion issues across its work, allowing greater clarity on the unintended consequences of regulation, the best interventions needed to ensure financial inclusion, as well as who is best placed to act. This will sometimes be the FCA, the Government, or a mixture of institutions working together.

We believe that the Future Financial Regulatory Framework review provides an appropriate vehicle to achieve this and it is currently open for consultation. The FCA has a huge opportunity here to help those who are being let down by the current financial market, but they need the Government to introduce this duty.

Join our campaign by signing our open letter here.

The Commission provides evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee

To date, pensions have largely been absent from the financial inclusion debate, even though they are a major factor in ensuring people are financially and socially included in retirement. A large and worrying pattern of disparity in savings and outcomes is emerging, with 8.5 million people lacking any pension savings at all. 

The Work and Pensions Select Committee call for evidence on protecting pension savers touches on several barriers to saving for retirement. The Commission was delighted to be invited to offer oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on the topic of accessing pension savings this month. Commissioner Laurie Edmans spoke on 16 June alongside other pensions policy experts, emphasising the importance of having access to pensions advice or guidance earlier in life to help people on their pensions journey. You can watch a recording of the evidence session here

Perhaps the most important issue to tackle is people’s ability to obtain guidance and advice. To overcome the disappointment many people feel when they reach retirement, they need to have a clearer picture of their retirement savings throughout their lives and the option to seek advice to make better financial judgements before it is too late. The Commission recommended better promotion of Pension Wise and an automatic enrolment into a Pension Wise interview throughout a person’s career, hopefully leading to an increase in the take-up of this vital resource. 

Beyond better, more consistent advice or guidance, the Commission has also recommended a refresh of the Pensions Commission, bringing it up-to-date and into the 2020s. The last thorough review of the system took place nearly 20 years ago, and since then the problems have changed. It is time for the solutions and thinking to change too. 

Pensions must be placed front and centre of any future strategy on financial inclusion, ensuring that retirement does not mean exclusion for millions.

UK FinTech Week 2021

During a year when everything moved online, FinTech has come to the forefront of many aspects of financial services. From banking apps to contactless payments, it’s clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital tools. UK FinTech week is an opportunity to reflect on the role FinTech plays in everyday life, as well as the possibilities it presents for financial inclusion.

At the Commission, we recognise that FinTech can help in solving many of the challenges that lead to people being excluded from financial products and services. Too often, traditional products and services have little flexibility and are not serving the needs of consumers. More tailored products can lead to a greater number of people being able to manage their money in a way that works for them.

We were pleased to see financial inclusion given prominence in the recommendations of the Kalifa Review of FinTech earlier this year. In particular, the incorporation of financial inclusion in future regulatory design and strategic thinking will be vital to ensuring that no vulnerable consumers are forgotten as the financial services landscape changes. While barriers remain which fall beyond the scope of the review, it is encouraging that the sector will not move forward without consideration of its power to include more people financially. 

However, while the exciting developments in FinTech often present opportunities, there are still challenges to overcome. Digital and financial exclusion often overlap, creating a danger that people will be left behind financially if they face difficulties getting online. The pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the inequalities many households face when it comes to accessing the internet. Despite common narratives that young people are digital natives, CapGemini found that 43 per cent of the offline population globally are below the age of 35. The high cost of devices and internet access can prove a barrier to many on low incomes, while complexity and lack of skills can hold others back from transitioning online. Equally, we must not forget the number of small businesses owners who are not ‘digital by default’. Many small businesses, and particularly micro businesses, still need support to adopt new methods of payment and understand the online tools available to help them run their businesses so that they are able to thrive. 

Investment in digital skills and infrastructure must therefore be a high priority as the UK FinTech sector continues to boom. As we move, increasingly, towards digital solutions, there is a need to upskill the population to make sure that no one is left behind. Greater education in tech and digital will also pave the way for sustainable job growth in emerging sectors. FinTech leaders can contribute not only to the UK’s global pre-eminence in the sector, but also to employment as the country emerges from the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

The next year will be a crucial one for the UK’s recovery. We hope that FinTech can remain a key part of that recovery and move us closer to a country where everyone is financially included.

UK FinTech Week runs from 19 – 23 April and is run by Innovate Finance. You can find more details about their events at

Amendments to the Financial Services Bill

This week marked the start of the Committee Stage of the Financial Services Bill in the House of Lords. Committee stage is the first stage in the legislative process where amendments (or changes) can be suggested to the Bill. 

We support the amendments proposed by Lord Holmes which are integral for improving financial inclusion in the UK through protecting SMEs, reviewing financial service regulation and adding a financial inclusion objective to the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You can find full details of these amendments here

In particular, we support the third amendment to add a Financial Inclusion Objective to the Remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The Commission recently submitted a joint response, along with Fair By Design, to the Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework Review which included a recommendation that the FCA should be required to have a cross-cutting statutory duty to promote financial inclusion as a core objective. You can find our full response here.

Currently the FCA has no clear statutory requirement to address financial inclusion issues at all. It also does not routinely have regard to issues of financial inclusion across all of its work, wherever it is appropriate. By their very nature essential services, such as credit, payment systems and insurance are needed by everyone. However, currently poorer people pay more for products and services than those better off and products and services often do not meet people’s needs. Some people are excluded altogether. This is the justification for having a social objective like financial inclusion.

With our proposed new objective, the FCA will have responsibility for addressing the ways that markets often exclude those that are most vulnerable or disadvantaged. 

This amendment will not only help achieve this, but also give the FCA the responsibility to require firms to report on their use of financial technology (FinTech) in the pursuit of this objective. 

Pensions – the Cinderella of financial inclusion policy

Pensions can help prevent financial exclusion and hardship in later life, but they are arguably the Cinderella of financial inclusion policy. The recent Pension Schemes Bill, for example, contained nothing about financial inclusion. The Financial Inclusion Commission believes that pensions must be pushed up the financial inclusion agenda as a priority. 

The UK is generally poorly prepared for retirement and the picture has changed little over the past decade. This is not surprising when even answering a simple question like ‘How much will I have to live on when I retire?’ is a complex task; we may shy away from planning for a day we don’t want to think about; and pensions policy seems in constant flux, given us another excuse to put off thinking about it. But the consequences of not thinking about it are significant in terms of financial inclusion in later life, especially if we assume that the state pension will be enough to meet our needs. 

State provision

Throughout our working lives we contribute to the state pension system through National Insurance Contributions. For that reason, people may assume the state pension is generous. It can be shocking to discover, usually too late, that it is relatively modest compared to earnings – and it is taxable. In 2020/21, the full level of the new state pension is £175.20 a week (£9,110.40 a year). 

Some claimants are entitled to top ups through Pension Credit and help with rent and council tax. Others may have to work longer than their state pension age to make ends meet. Reliance on the state pension alone leaves many people excluded from the financial products and services they would like to access as well as the lifestyle they may have hoped to enjoy in retirement. 

The good news is that since the advent of automatic enrolment in workplace pensions in the UK, most people who are employed should have access to a pension scheme arranged for them by their employer. By 2019, around 10 million workers had been automatically enrolled – although the questions remain whether they are saving enough for a more comfortable retirement; and what any pension savings might mean for their access to benefits in later life. Of perhaps more concern, however, are the people who are not benefitting from workplace pensions at all.

Who’s missing out?

Many of those missing out on automatic enrolment have lower incomes, rent their homes, and will have little in the way of savings or other assets to draw on in retirement.

We estimate that around 8.5 million workers are excluded from automatic enrolment because they work in the gig economy or part time and earn too little; or are self-employed or work in small firms where they are the only director and there are no other employees.  

In addition, employees who are eligible for automatic enrolment may not engage because they don’t trust pensions or their employers; don’t feel they can afford to make contributions out of their income; or don’t plan for anything beyond the day-to-day. These employees could stand to benefit most from additional pension provision. 

Women, for example, are more likely to be employed in lower paid sectors such as the care sector. Even if they are contributing to a workplace pension, the amounts accumulated tend to be low. This helps explain the UK’s big gender gap in pensions: in European OECD countries, pension payments to women aged 65+ are 25% lower on average than for men; in the UK they are 35% lower

People from different ethnic backgrounds are also likely to be in poorer paid jobs and therefore accumulating less for their retirement. The average pensioner from an ethnic minority is £3,350 a year worse off than other pensioners, representing a 24.4% gap in retirement income. Relatively poor pension provision for self-employed and gig economy workers is a contributory factor because some ethnicities are disproportionately represented in these groups.

Financial exclusion and hardship in retirement may be further exacerbated if people who rely on the state pension don’t know they could be entitled to additional top-ups, don’t know who to ask, or are too proud to ask. 

Getting pensions on the financial inclusion agenda

To date, pensions have largely been absent from the financial inclusion debate – even though they are a major factor in ensuring people are financially and socially included in retirement. As part of its vision for a financially inclusive UK, the Financial Inclusion Commission is campaigning to change this so that:

  • every adult has access to objective, affordable and understandable advice on credit, debt, savings and pensions, delivered via the channel most suited to them;
  • the overall level of pensions provision – state plus private – in the UK, does not lag behind other developed countries, especially for the low paid; and
  • every adult will have a clear picture of what their income in retirement is likely to be, so they can plan and get ‘no surprises’. 

We are welcoming feedback on how these issues impact you or your organisations, and how this ties into your work. You can get in touch at

We are recruiting

The Financial Inclusion Commission are delighted to announce we are recruiting for new Commissioners. 

You can find out more in the letter from our Chair, Chris Pond here;

If you are interested in applying, please send an email telling us about yourself, why you are interested in joining the fight against financial exclusion and what you feel you can offer us in knowledge and experience to

If you want to know more, you can find our FAQs document here;

The deadline for applications is Friday 26 February at 5pm.

It’s not just small businesses that are struggling financially, it’s the households that depend on them to put food on the table.

Says Liz Barclay Vice Chair of the Financial Inclusion Commission 

On the 26th November 2020 the Financial Inclusion Commission hosted a roundtable to discuss how to help small businesses around the UK deal with their financial woes and get recovery ready.

We also produced a discussion paper in September this year with debt charity The Money Advice Trust which runs Business Debtline, setting out what we felt were the main issues small businesses are encountering. In that we suggested:  

  1. Swift action with either insurance or assurance of help from Government to deal with the interruptions that they will see in the years to come. 
  2. Action to strengthen the Prompt Payment Code further, to introduce fines for persistent late payers, and to review the use of statutory interest on late payments. 
  3. Help to defer repayment of government-backed loans, where needed, without increasing their debt and more accessible, affordable credit. 
  4. A collaborative approach by the regulators, requiring the industry to guarantee access to and acceptance of cash, and provide the regulatory framework to enable effective collaboration as well as requiring payment providers to implement Request to Pay and auto-enrol customers. 
  5. Further support to ensure digital access and better digital banking and payments products which meet these needs, at costs affordable for small businesses.
  6. Support and training to help small businesses adapt to the increasing digitisation of the economy and assistance to train and upskill the workforce and contribute to job creation. 
  7. A fundamental review of how small businesses and the self-employed are taxed with a view to achieving a system which does not lead to significant costs for small businesses. 
  8. A sustainable long-term pension solution with ways of providing adequate advice and of engaging small businesses and the self-employed in planning their financial future.

At the ensuing roundtable on the 26th November Matt Hartley from the Money Advice Trust outlined just how tough small businesses are finding it financially. One of the most worrying points he raised is that small business owners have been trying to keep their businesses afloat using money that would normally be reserved for paying the household bills. As a result twice as many households had fallen behind with personal credit card payments or council tax as far back as May as were behind with business bills. 

He also pointed out that 72% of people surveyed earlier in the year said late payments were making financial problems caused by Covid-19 worse. 

Philip King, Interim Small Business Commissioner told the audience that getting a payment on time can mean the difference between being able to feed your family or not, and the implications for mental health of small business owners are horrendous. Philip has written a blog for the FIC which you can find here

We need our small businesses to survive and drive the recovery. They are the backbone of the UK economy with 5.9 million small businesses employing about 60% of the workforce pre-covid. They are the innovators and entrepreneurs who take risks and create jobs. 

Miles Celic is CEO of TheCityUK, set up 10 years ago to represent UK-based financial and related professional services. The organisation is working on an ecosystem recovery plan for cities across the UK. Miles is pushing for various support mechanisms for small businesses: “There’s no point in supporting them through the crisis only to pull the plug on them later on, because that’s hugely damaging to the companies, the people who work for them, the communities they support, and to the tax payer more broadly.”

Over the next year at the FIC we’ll continue to investigate the financial issues faced by small firms. 

In the meantime Money Advice Trust launched a new report on Tuesday 8th December called Back to business: Supporting people in self-employment to bounce back from Covid-19 which includes predictions from self-employed people about their longer term recovery from this crisis and that of their business. I have to declare an interest here. I have been an ambassador for the Money Advice Trust for years. It does remarkable work.

Business Debtline helps the people who sit behind those numbers – those in the hospitality industry whose jobs have disappeared, taxi drivers whose custom has dried up, bar owners who have lost all their trade overnight. If you know someone who needs their help find them online at or call 0800 197 6026. 

Philip King, Interim Small Business Commissioner, on the impact of late payments

Late payment is a scourge that has a disproportionate effect on small businesses and, according to the FSB, is responsible for the failure of approximately 50,000 small businesses a year. Cashflow is the lifeblood of businesses and, when it runs out, they fail. It’s as simple as that. When employees, a key supplier, or a landlord can’t be paid then the inevitable outcome is failure of the business unless alternative additional funds can be found, and quickly.

As the Small Business Commissioner, my team and I speak to countless businesses that are struggling to get paid by a larger customer. We intervene or signpost to help them resolve the situation and get the monies they’re owed. To date, we’ve directly recouped almost £7.5m, and more than £680k since we entered lockdown. We will also, unknowingly, have supported the collection of far more where our name has been used as a means of encouraging a business to pay.

But the impact of late payment is not just financial, it’s also emotional. I’ve talked to thousands of small businesses through lockdown on webinars and virtual forums and I’ve heard many harrowing stories from business owners: people who are living their passion and dream through running a business but who can be incredibly vulnerable.

As a result of worrying whether a payment is going to arrive or not, they suffer from mental health issues which can cause relationship difficulties, breakdowns, sleeplessness, mood swings and anxiety. Their employees are often personal long-standing friends and they feel a responsibility towards them. At the same time, they are worried about clothing and feeding their own families and know that they will have to make difficult decisions. They’re often caught between a rock and a hard place and frequently feel they have nowhere to turn for help or meaningful advice.

And not every small business owner is tech-savvy. The move to technological solutions is great for some of us but makes others feel excluded and even more vulnerable. That is why the work of the Financial Inclusion Commission (FIC) is so important and why the SBC is eager to collaborate with it. The SBC can help small businesses get paid, and the FIC wants to make sure that financial services are accessible to all, and that everyone has the skills and motivation needed to use them.

If, together, we can help ease the cashflow pressures for small businesses and ensure people can access the services that most of us take for granted, it will be a noble partnership. 

The Financial Inclusion Commission is delighted that Philip will be speaking at our Small Business Roundtable event on Thursday 26 November.

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