Q&A with Chris Pond

Former work and pensions minister, Chris Pond, is the chair of the Council’s standards board. He is also chair of financial education charity, Credit Action, a trustee of the Family and Parenting Institute and a member of the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Council. He was the MP for Gravesham between 1997 and 2005 and is both a former head of consumer affairs and before that a former director of financial capability for the Financial Services Authority.

Q) What was your introduction to the Equity Release industry?

A) I first came across the sector when in Government, as a work and pensions minister, and later as a director at the FSA. I remember being wheeled out to warn people of the dangers of equity release! What a transformation there has been since that time, with not only the FCA but respected consumer champions like (Money Saving Expert) Martin Lewis, with whom I work with on money and mental health issues, declaring this to be a safe product.

Q) What have been your areas of focus in your work to date?

A) The public and consumer confidence that has fuelled the growth in equity release is built on the trust that this sector now commands through the maintenance of the highest standards of consumer protection. My main focus is on promoting and improving those standards as the market continues to grow.

Q) How will you know the Council has the right standards/what will be the marker of success for the project?

A) The confidence that equity release now commands, amongst the industry and consumers, regulators and government suggests we’re getting it about right. Complaints about equity release are the lowest in the housing finance sector, but we mustn’t rest on our laurels. This is not only a growing market, but an increasingly innovative one, and we need to make sure the standards can accommodate that growth and change.

Q) What does the standards board do to ensure the consumers’ best interests are the focus, while helping Council members?

A) Protection for consumers, and the trust it engenders, is the best marketing tool for our members. But we need to ensure that the standards achieve the right outcomes for customers, especially when they may be going through a period of vulnerability, so we’re adapting the standards to make them more principles and outcomes focused.

Q) What do you see are the challenges for the future of the sector?

A) The biggest challenge will be an erosion of trust in the product and the sector. If we allow our standards to slip, and if complaints begin once again to rise, then regulators and government will feel it necessary to step in.

Q) How can firms best manage their reputation in the ER sector?

A) By promoting and adhering to the standards and by engaging in the public and policy debate about the increasingly public role that equity release can play

Q) What one thing do people not know/realise/know enough about?

A) There’s not enough understanding yet of the role that equity release could play in giving people a more comfortable retirement, meeting the costs of long-term care or providing an opportunity for one generation to help another. That’s why housing wealth should be a regular part of the conversation about retirement planning, alongside pensions. But we’re getting there.

This article first appeared in the Council’s newsletter which is available to members in the Members’ Lounge.