The need to build consumer confidence in cross-border financial services in Europe with a view to increasing the share of these - currently a mere 7% of the total - was stressed at a conference organised by EESC member Carlos Trias Pintó on 24 May at the European Commission representation in Madrid. MEP Othman Karas announced that the European Parliament would relay some of the EESC's key proposals in its own response to the Commission's proposed Consumer Financial Services Action Plan.
The conference, entitled Challenges of the new digital context: quality of the offer, accessibility, fair competition and consumer protection, was intended to promote the EESC opinion on consumer financial services, adopted in September 2017.
EESC member Bernardo Hernández Bataller moderated the event and both the opinion rapporteur Michael Ikrath and co-rapporteur, Mr Trias Pintó, took the floor. Other speakers included MEPs Othman Karas and Jonas Fernández Álvarez, members of the committee for economic and monetary affairs (ECON), Manuel Pardos, President of Asociación de Usuarios de Bancos, Cajas de Ahorro y Seguros (ADICAE), Fernando Tejada de la Fuente, from the Bank of Spain, and Jose Luis Martínez Campuzano, spokesperson of the Spanish Banking Association (AEB).
Consumers should be able to choose the best and most innovative financial products across borders, said Mr Ikrath, stressing the financial services market in the EU was still fragmented and harmonization far away. Traditional retail banks, especially regional and local banks, were a key intermediary in building consumer confidence, he said, since they had traditionally enjoyed a high level of consumer trust from EU consumers, whose tendency to switch providers was rather low.
Creditworthiness criteria needed to be harmonised to solve the problem of "loan shopping", with borrowers taking on cross-border consumer loans not available to them at home and risking over-indebtedness. Consumer insolvency needed to be minimised through regulation, said Mr Trias Pintó, who also stressed the risks of alternative digital currencies such as bitcoin, cyber currencies and blockchain technology in terms of undermining security, data protection and consumer trust.
Mr Karas expressed support for the EESC's opinion and announced that some of its proposals would be relayed in the European Parliament's opinion, in particular:
- The need to ensure that tax arrangements for products and services are no longer an obstacle to fair competition;
- the Commission should define additional "flagship products" which are simple, have the same characteristics and are therefore comparable and transparent, alongside consumer products;
- independent, certified comparison tools need to be available for different financial products;
- IT giants, such as Google, Apple etc. should also apply consumer protection rules. (dm)