REG Reviews

REG Reviews – December 2023

4th December 2023

Welcome to Your December Edition of REG Reviews!

Last month, the FCA urged companies to ensure Consumer Duty reports are a priority, the UK made headway following the publication of the world’s first global guidelines for the secure development of AI technology, the UK government pushed regulators to prioritise economic growth and REG hosted its much anticipated Mind Matters panel event, focused on how we can work together to ensure mens mental health at work is supported.

Read these articles and many more, as we bring you all the important news and views from the insurance and financial services world…

Industry News​


FCA Urges Companies to Prioritise Consumer Duty Reports for Positive Consumer Outcomes

The Director of Cross-Cutting Policy and Strategy at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Nisha Arora, has urged companies not to postpone their preparations for the annual Consumer Duty board reports.

Despite three months having passed since the 31st July deadline, when the Consumer Duty came into effect, Arora emphasises the importance of businesses demonstrating their commitment to delivering positive outcomes for consumers, particularly those who may be vulnerable.

Arora emphasised that, as part of the Consumer Duty, a company’s board or equivalent governing body should annually approve an assessment determining whether the firm is delivering positive outcomes for its customers.

Arora stated in her speech at Deloitte’s Consumer Duty – Next Steps event; “This assessment should include the results of your monitoring on whether your products and services are delivering expected outcomes in line with the Duty – and any evidence of poor outcomes.”

“And before signing it off, your board needs to agree the actions required to address any identified risks or poor outcomes and agree whether any changes to your firm’s future business strategy are required. This will take time to do well, so don’t delay!”

Arora highlighted that the annual assessment, conducted by a company’s board or equivalent governing body, will serve as evidence for the regulator to evaluate the firm’s continuous adherence to the Consumer Duty.

She said; “You’ll need to be able to provide it, and the management information that sits behind it, on request.”

Arora highlighted the ongoing nature of the Consumer Duty, stressing the need for continuous actions, assessments, testing, and evidence.

She reiterated the FCA’s commitment to swiftly intervene in markets where consumers are not experiencing positive outcomes and warned of taking robust action in such cases.

Nikhil Rathi assumed the role of FCA CEO in October 2020, acknowledging the need for the watchdog to “raise its game.”

In the 2021 business plan, Rathi outlined the agency’s commitment to evolving into a proactive regulator.

Rathi stated; “One that is tough, assertive, confident, decisive, agile. One that acts, acts fast – and where we can’t act, engages enthusiastically with those who can.”

In her address, Arora voiced that firms must take necessary actions to ensure the delivery of positive outcomes, including making changes to communications to enhance clarity and understanding.

“We want to see firms learning and improving continuously.”

“If you’ve not looked in detail at your customers’ experience, and aren’t monitoring outcomes for customers, including different groups, an ongoing basis, we’ll be doubtful that you’ve got to grips with this,” she added.


Government Pledge Over £1.5bn for AI Development and Quantum Research

In the UK Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, significant focus was placed on advancements in science and technology, particularly in the realms of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum research. 

Jeremy Hunt announced a substantial increase in government spending on computing power for AI development, injecting an additional £500 million over two years. This augmentation aims to elevate the total planned investment in AI to exceed £1.5 billion.  

The decision to amplify funding comes in response to previous criticism of the initial £900 million allocation for AI computing in the March Budget, deemed insufficient by international standards, prompting the UK to align more closely with other countries planning more substantial investments in these emerging technologies. 

Rashik Parmar, Chief Executive of the British Computer Society stated; “It’s great to hear that the government will find a further £500mn over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse.”
Alongside the increased funding for AI, the UK government unveiled five ambitious “moonshot missions” as part of its £2.5 billion national quantum strategy. 

These missions encompass the goal of creating UK-based quantum computers with the capability to execute 1 trillion operations without errors, surpassing the current fastest machines that manage only a few hundred error-free operations.  

Additionally, the strategy aims to establish “the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale,” pioneering the development of the future quantum internet.  

Chris Ballance, Chief Executive of UK quantum start-up Oxford Ionics said; “It is much more than headline pledges, it’s a call to arms.” 

“The government is sending a clear signal of the UK’s unwavering commitment to becoming a leader in the quantum revolution.” 

In addition to the developments in AI and quantum research, the Autumn Statement allocated £121 million to the UK space sector. These funds will support various infrastructure investments in Earth observation and communication technology. 

Part of this funding, in collaboration with aerospace company, Lockheed Martin, will facilitate the establishment of the £50 million North East Space Skills and Technology Centre at Northumbria University in Newcastle. 

The pharmaceutical and biotech industries welcomed the announcement of a £520 million investment in life sciences manufacturing from 2025-26. Additionally, changes to research and development tax credits are expected to provide relief worth an extra £280 million per year, as highlighted in the government’s statement. 

Steve Bates, Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association added; “Increased flexibility in the tax relief scheme for R&D-intensive companies will make a meaningful difference to company growth, job creation and accelerating the delivery of new medicines to patients.” 

Sarah Main, Executive Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said; “I’m encouraged by the ideas that emerged. They show government thinking creatively about new ways to support science in the long term and seeding support across the breadth of the science economy.” 


House of Lords Urges Comprehensive Reform for BoE Amid Inflation

According to a House of Lords report, the Bank of England (BoE) requires substantial reform in its internal culture, governance, and appointments processes.  

The report criticises the BoE and other central banks for displaying “complacency” regarding the threat of inflation. 

The Lords economic affairs committee contends that BoE policymakers exhibited reluctance to challenge conventional wisdom and relied excessively on “inadequate” forecasting models during the emergence of inflation in 2020 and 2021.  

During this period, major central banks, including the BoE, were slow to raise interest rates, believing that the inflation spike triggered by the pandemic and energy crisis would be temporary. 

The House of Lords committee’s report, released on Monday, suggests significant reforms for the BoE, including diversifying the intellectual background of recruits to encourage a “diversity of views and culture of challenge.” 

The report specifically recommends a review of the process for senior BoE appointments, highlighting that three deputy governors and the recently retired Sir Jon Cunliffe had previous roles at the Treasury. 

Additionally, the report proposes regular parliamentary reviews of the BoE’s remit and performance. It advocates for a streamlined focus, suggesting a reduction in the BoE’s extensive remit. 

Public confidence in the BoE has significantly declined, particularly in the aftermath of central banks overseeing the most significant inflationary surge in a generation—an issue the BoE is still grappling to control. 

To address these challenges, the BoE’s court of directors has enlisted Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the US Federal Reserve, to review its forecasting methods. However, the House of Lords report suggests the need for broader lessons from recent events. 

The report highlights a prolonged “unanimity of view” in 2020 and 2021 that higher inflation would be transitory, a perspective the BoE now regrets.  

Despite this belief, the BoE was compelled to raise interest rates 14 times in an attempt to curb inflation, which reached a peak of 11 percent last year. 

The House of Lords report also raised questions about why the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) did not give more attention to money supply growth during the critical period. 

Emphasising the importance of diverse perspectives, the report deemed it “imperative” that the MPC’s membership includes individuals with sufficiently varied backgrounds and economic viewpoints. 

The report specifically focused on the central role of the Treasury in making top appointments at the BoE and highlighted the Treasury background of several deputy governors. 

Part of the challenges facing the BoE is attributed to its expanding remit from the government, which dictates the diverse range of issues it must consider in setting policy, including climate issues, according to the report. 

The committee recommends that the BoE’s remit be “pruned by the Treasury,” suggesting that this could lead to a more streamlined management structure for the bank.  

This proposal comes in the wake of Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, removing climate change from a list of four key priorities in a remit letter issued to the BoE committee responsible for financial stability last week. 

The committee members observed that scrutiny of the BoE and its officials had not kept pace with its expanded remit, expressing concerns about a “democratic deficit.” 

To address this, the report recommends that parliament should conduct a comprehensive review of the BoE’s remit, performance, and operations every five years. This periodic review is seen as essential to ensure transparency, accountability, and alignment with democratic principles. 

In response, the Treasury asserted that the BoE is already accountable to parliament and the public, citing regular scrutiny by parliamentary committees, the publication of Monetary Policy Committee meeting minutes, and the routine issuance of monetary policy reports. 


UK Government Pushes Regulators to Prioritise Economic Growth

Rishi Sunak’s government has escalated efforts to compel key regulators to play a more active role in fostering economic growth to revitalise the UK’s sluggish economy.  

Recent proposals aim to reinforce the growth duty applied to numerous British watchdogs and extend its coverage to encompass energy, water, and communications regulators.  

Additionally, letters were sent directly to competition and accounting watchdogs instructing them to enhance the appeal and competitiveness of the UK as a business destination. 

These initiatives are part of the government’s broader strategy to cut bureaucratic hurdles for businesses, reenergise the City of London, and uplift the UK’s sluggish economic growth, which the Bank of England predicts to be zero in 2024.  

This year, the FCA and the PRA received additional competitiveness and growth objectives, sparking concerns about the potential impact on the regulators’ ability to fulfil their primary roles effectively. 

Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, have announced plans to bolster the growth duty imposed on regulators under the Deregulation Act 2015.  

The duty currently requires watchdogs to consider promoting economic growth in their decision-making process and applies to various regulators, including the Gambling Commission and the Food Standards Agency.  

The proposed expansion aims to include energy, water, and communications regulators, with letters sent to the heads of Ofgem, Ofwat, and Ofcom, which oversee the relevant sectors, subject to parliamentary approval in April. 

The growth duty requires regulators to consider promoting economic growth. The consultation explores the potential for regulators to publicly report actions fulfilling the growth duty.  

Ministers have also issued a “strategic steer” to the Competition and Markets Authority to safeguard its reputation and maintain the UK’s appeal for business. 

The government is instructing the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to prioritise factors such as minimising business burdens, engaging with the government, and fostering a pro-competition, pro-growth, pro-investment environment.  

This directive follows criticism of the CMA’s decision to block Microsoft’s $75 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard, with the gaming group suggesting that the UK was “clearly closed for business.” 

The CMA eventually approved the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal after the companies agreed to restructure it.  

Senior government figures deny any pressure on the regulator, with CMA CEO Sarah Cardell emphasising that political interference did not influence the outcome.  

Additionally, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has received a new remit to promote economic competitiveness. 

The UK government has directed the FRC to contribute to promoting economic competitiveness and growth, reinforcing its growth duty. While the FRC already had a broader growth objective, the government plans to strengthen it further.  

This move follows lobbying by the Capital Markets Industry Taskforce for the FRC to have an explicit competitiveness objective.  

Additionally, the BoE committee responsible for financial stability has been given four priorities by Hunt, all focused on growth, prompting criticism from environmental groups. 


FCA Unveils Rigorous Rules for 'Sustainable' Fund Marketing

In a groundbreaking move, the UK is set to overhaul its financial landscape by implementing stringent rules against the deceptive marketing of funds as “sustainable” by asset managers.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced its revolutionary framework on 27th November just ahead of the global COP28 climate summit in Dubai, aiming to ensure transparency, fairness, and accuracy in the promotion of financial products that claim to benefit either people or the planet. 

These rules have transpired following the asset management industry having historically enjoyed considerable leeway in applying the “sustainable” label without stringent oversight from regulators.

As of December next year, asset managers promoting their funds as sustainable will be compelled to adopt one of four specific fund labels, substantiating that at least 70 percent of their assets align with the chosen category.  

These labelled funds, or those making sustainability-related assertions in their marketing, will be obligated to disclose a comprehensive two-page summary outlining their evidence-based stewardship strategy and “theory of change.”

This disclosure must be based on an independently assessed standard, such as a greenhouse gas target or alignment with the EU’s taxonomy of green activities. 

The FCA contemplates extending this regulatory framework to encompass portfolio managers, foreign funds, pension products, and financial advisers in the future. 

Moreover, starting from May next year, all FCA-authorised companies will be subject to anti-greenwashing regulations, building on the existing requirement that financial product and service marketing must be correct, clear, complete, and fair. 

According to Morningstar Direct, there are currently $242 billion worth of funds in the UK labeled as “sustainable,” compared to $290 billion in the US and nearly $2 trillion in the rest of Europe.  

The FCA’s four proposed fund categories pertain to investments in companies meeting a “credible” environmental or social standard, having the potential to improve against these criteria, investing in tangible solutions to global challenges, or a combination thereof. 

This newfound regulatory clarity is expected to prompt asset managers to introduce new green funds in the coming year, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of enforcement actions against funds engaged in potential greenwashing. 

Gavin Haran, Head of Policy for Asset Management, at the London-based law firm Macfarlanes, anticipates that the regulatory changes could lead to heightened enforcement against funds suspected of greenwashing.  

Sacha Sadan, Head of Environmental, Social, and Governance Issues at the FCA, asserted that the UK regulator is pioneering the world by mandating regulated labels for funds claiming sustainability, learning from the challenges faced by its EU counterparts. 

Unlike the EU’s stringent approach, the UK’s flexibility acknowledges that investing in polluting clients is permissible within sustainable strategies, as long as such an approach is transparently disclosed.

According to Sadan, the principle is clear; “It’s OK to stay. Whether it’s on climate, diversity, or supply chains, you can stay and show you are trying to influence and make the system better.” 


Brokers' Responsibilities and Actions in the Fight Against Money Laundering

Last week, Paul Tasker, CEO of REG Technologies, spoke to Insurance Age about brokers’ anti-money laundering responsibilities and set out a ‘must do’ list for brokers to deliver their crucial role in the fight against money laundering. 

Tasker noted that you will always find numerous blogs or articles often delving into the costs tied to fraud and money laundering in the insurance sector, often backed by compelling statistics, such as, a recent ‘Top 4’ survey disclosed that ‘two thirds of insurers had experienced fraud or financial crime in the previous year’.

Drawing distinctions between fraud and money laundering is crucial. However, the tendency to aggregate data on both seems to treat them as identical, despite their inherent differences, stated Tasker.

Reflecting on the impact of money laundering, Tasker identified some key statistics: 

  • UN estimates suggest that up to 90% of global money laundering goes unnoticed. 
  • Over the past decade, terrorism has claimed 250,000 lives worldwide. 
  • Global money laundering activities are estimated to cost between 2% and 5% of the global gross domestic product.  

He went on to share that, while fraud involves deceptive actions to extract funds from insurers, money laundering, which includes terrorist financing, exploits financial systems to legitimise illicit funds. Both activities pose severe threats to financial health, credibility, and regulatory compliance.

Involvement in money laundering and terrorist financing activities exposes insurance businesses to substantial legal and reputational risks. 

“Money laundering and terrorist financing is not victimless. Many people lose their lives, economies suffer and society is significantly adversely affected,” declared Tasker.

Drawing on the devastating consequences, he shared that the UK’s National Crime Agency describes serious organised crime as ‘chronic and corrosive’ on a ‘truly staggering’ scale, surpassing the combined impact of terrorism, war, and natural disasters. It ‘kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined,’ affecting ‘more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat.’  

Tasker insisted that the necessity to launder money is deeply rooted in serious organised crime and terrorism, finding an ideal solution in the size and volumes of payments within the insurance market. Therefore, he stated that it’s unsurprising that the insurance market is a prime target for criminals. He begged the question – who bears the responsibility of defending it, and what are the anti-money laundering processes?

According to Tasker; “Insurers must monitor claims irregularities and patterns, as well as AML risks, which can lead to the misconception that they are solely responsible, but brokers’ responsibilities are equally important and necessary.” 

Tasker communicated how brokers and insurers often hold distinct roles and functions, leading to variations in their anti-money laundering responsibilities. While insurers focus on monitoring claims irregularities and patterns, as well as AML risks within their products, Tasker noted the misconception that they bear sole responsibility is dispelled by the equally important and necessary role of brokers. 

Commenting on the responsibilities of brokers, Tasker detailed brokers must adhere to the AML requirements set out by the UK’s regulatory bodies and The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (MLR 2017). This mandates firms in higher money-laundering risk areas, like brokers, to take a risk-based approach, implementing measures to identify clients and their service usage.  

Tasker affirmed how brokers play a pivotal role in the insurance supply chain and must actively contribute to the fight against money laundering. To ensure this, he set out his AML ‘must-do’ list for brokers:  

  • Compliance with Financial Conduct Authority rules: Brokers must comply with the AML rules and guidance provided by the Financial Conduct Authority. Staying updated with regulatory changes, and adhering to the FCA’s guidelines, is essential to maintain compliance. 
  • Risk assessment: Brokers need to conduct risk assessments to identify and manage the risks associated with money laundering and terrorist financing in their operations. This includes implementing appropriate policies, procedures and controls to mitigate these risks effectively. 
  • Customer due diligence: Brokers are obligated to conduct thorough due diligence on their clients. This involves verifying the identity of clients, understanding the nature of their business, assessing the risk they pose for money laundering or terrorist financing, and keeping records of these checks. 
  • Ongoing monitoring: Brokers must continually monitor their client relationships and transactions. They need to be vigilant for any unusual or suspicious activities, and update customer information regularly. 
  • Reporting suspicious activities: If brokers suspect any transactions or activities linked to money laundering or terrorist financing, they are required to report them to the National Crime Agency through a Suspicious Activity Report. 
  • Employee training: It is crucial for brokers to ensure their employees are adequately trained in AML regulations. Employees should be capable of identifying suspicious activities and understanding their role in AML compliance. 

Tasker vouched how collaboration is key and brokers should not assume that insurers bear the sole responsibility. He continued to share that, while nuanced differences exist in how they implement AML measures, brokers must acknowledge their role in the fight against money laundering.

Developing a robust anti-money laundering culture requires a two-fold approach, integrating both human and technological elements. Establishing a compliance-centered organisational culture with comprehensive training programs is crucial, fostering a deep understanding of AML requirements among personnel at all levels. Encouraging an attitude of alertness, accountability, and open communication channels for reporting questionable activity is equally critical, he shared.

When commenting on the crucial role of artificial intelligence n the fight against money laundering, Tasker explained how incorporating technology solutions complements the human-centric strategy, utilising technological advances for enhanced monitoring, risk assessment, and transaction analysis.

According to Tasker; “Balancing human experience with technology innovation creates a dynamic AML framework that strengthens compliance controls while quickly adjusting to changing risks.”

He believes the use of AI-driven algorithms and machine learning models facilitates real-time detection and response to suspicious activity. 

“Through the diligent application of their AML processes, brokers can contribute to creating a more secure, stable and transparent financial environment, benefiting society by fostering economic growth, security and trust in financial systems,” Tasker concluded.


FCA Authorisation Performance Sees Mixed Trends in Q2 2023

During the second quarter of 2023, the FCA experienced a decline in its authorisation performance in four out of five categories affecting brokers, Insurance Age reported on 17th November.

This is in contrast to the first quarter of the year, where improvements were observed in four out of the five categories.  

Specifically, between April and June, the FCA processed 97.2% of applications on time for ‘approved person’ status submitted by an authorised firm under the Senior Manager and Certification Regime. 

In the second quarter of 2023, the FCA demonstrated an improvement in its authorisation performance by processing 97.2% of applications on time for ‘approved person’ status, up from 94.5% in Q1.  

Although below the 100% statutory target to be assessed within three months, this performance marked the third consecutive quarter in the amber category, indicating a range above 90% but below 98%.  

After experiencing significant improvement in the first quarter of the year, with a jump from 82.8% to 97.1%, the processing of approved persons under the appointed representatives regime saw a slight decline to 95.9% in the second quarter.

Despite this dip, the performance still fell within the amber category, indicating efficiency above 90% but below 98%. The statutory target for this category is also 100%, to be assessed within three months. 

In the category of variation of permission applications, the only green-rated category, the processing timeframe is six months for a complete application and 12 months for an incomplete one.  

Although the statutory target is 100%, the FCA’s scoring system allows for a minimum of 98%.  

However, in the second quarter of 2023, the performance in this category slipped to 98.4%, a decrease from 99.4% in Q1 2023 and 99.7% in Q4 2022.  The median time taken for this category was 70 days. 

In the category of new firm authorisations, which share the same six- or 12-month goals, the processing success rate was 93.9%, retaining an amber rating. This figure lagged behind Q1 2023, where it stood at 97%. The median time taken for this category was 89 days.  

In the change of control category, which has a statutory target of 60 working days, the FCA’s median performance was 48 days. However, the FCA slipped from 99.7% in Q1 2023 to 99.1%, receiving an amber rating. 


UK Leads with World's First Secure AI Development Guidelines

The UK has taken a significant step by publishing the world’s first global guidelines for the secure development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.  

Demonstrating leadership in AI safety, agencies from 17 other countries have committed to endorsing and co-sealing these ground-breaking guidelines. 

The primary objective of these guidelines is to elevate cybersecurity standards in the realm of AI. They are designed to ensure that AI is developed, designed, and deployed with a strong emphasis on security, contributing to a safer and more resilient AI landscape. 

The Guidelines for Secure AI System Development, a pioneering initiative, have been collaboratively developed by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).  

Industry experts and 21 international agencies and ministries, including those from the G7 nations and the Global South, contributed to the creation of these guidelines. 

These globally agreed-upon guidelines, led by the UK, are the first of their kind and seek to prioritise:

  • Taking ownership of security outcomes for customers
  • Embracing radical transparency and accountability
  • Building organisational structure and leadership so secure by design is a top business priority

They provide a comprehensive framework to assist developers of AI systems in making well-informed cybersecurity decisions at every stage of the development process, whether building systems from scratch or leveraging tools and services provided by others. 

The Guidelines for Secure AI System Development advocate for a “secure by design” approach, emphasising that cybersecurity is not only a crucial prerequisite for AI system safety but an integral aspect throughout the entire development process. 

The official launch of these guidelines took place on 27th november at an event hosted by the NCSC, where 100 key industry, government, and international partners convened for a panel discussion on the collective challenge of securing AI.  

Distinguished panellists included representatives from Microsoft, the Alan Turing Institute, and cybersecurity agencies from the UK, the US, Canada, and Germany.  

Lindy Cameron, NCSC CEO emphasised, in a keynote speech at Chatham House in June, the risks of retrofitting security into AI systems in the future. She stressed the imperative to integrate security into the development of AI systems from the outset, rather than treating it as an afterthought. 

The newly introduced guidelines represent a global, multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at tackling this issue.  

They build upon the legacy of sustained international cooperation on AI risks, established through the UK Government’s AI Safety Summit. 

The guidelines are structured around four essential areas: secure design, secure development, secure deployment, and secure operation and maintenance.  

Each of these key components is accompanied by suggested behaviours, providing a comprehensive framework to enhance security practices throughout the entire lifecycle of AI systems. 


UK Watchdog Issues Cookie Transparency Warning for Websites

Certain widely visited websites in the UK might be at risk of fines unless they enhance the transparency regarding the optional nature of cookies. 

Cookies, those tiny files that websites stash on your computer, serve the purpose of gathering analytic data, tailoring online advertisements, and monitoring web browsing activity. 

According to the Information Commissioner, several prominent websites are falling short in offering users equitable choices when it comes to the utilisation of cookies. 

A 30-day ultimatum has been issued by the Information Commissioner, mandating compliance with the law that stipulates cookie acceptance and rejection should be equally straightforward. 

While the watchdog refrains from disclosing the specific websites targeted by enforcement notices, it underscores the importance of aligning practices with the law. 

Cookies play a dual role on websites, facilitating proper functionality on one hand and enabling user tracking for targeted advertisements on the other. The data collected includes user activities on the site, geographical location, device information, and subsequent online navigation. 

For numerous websites, cookies are indispensable in fuelling the advertising ecosystem upon which they rely. This legal directive seeks to ensure users have a seamless experience in managing their cookie preferences. 

The ubiquity of advertising facilitated by cookies often gives rise to a sense of intrusion. It’s a familiar scenario for individuals to visit a website, make a purchase, and subsequently encounter related ads across all the sites they navigate. 

While cookie pop-ups are designed to empower users in managing their cookie preferences, they frequently prove to be a source of annoyance.  

The clarity of these pop-ups is a common issue; for instance, closing the box without actively selecting an option can result in inadvertent opt-ins or opt-outs, depending on the website’s design. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has emphasised that organisations must ensure equal ease for users to “reject all” advertising cookies as it is to “accept all,” according to previous guidance.  

Even if users opt to reject all tracking, websites can still display generic advertisements, but personalised tailoring based on the user’s browsing is prohibited. 

The regulations governing cookies are presently divided between the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). 

The PECR, often referred to as the “cookie law,” gained prominence due to the widespread use of cookie consent pop-ups. 

However, a legislative proposal progressing through Parliament seeks to amend the PECR with the goal of minimising the frequency of cookie pop-ups.  

The data protection and digital information bill, currently under consideration, introduces provisions enabling websites to collect certain types of information for service improvement or security without explicit user consent.  This provision has raised concerns among digital privacy groups. 

Furthermore, the bill grants ministers the authority to introduce new exceptions to the cookie consent requirements, adding a layer of flexibility to the regulatory framework. 

Stephen Almond, the Executive Director of Regulatory Risk at the watchdog, noted that their research indicates significant concerns among individuals regarding companies utilising their personal information without explicit consent. 

“Gambling addicts may be targeted with betting offers based on their browsing record, women may be targeted with distressing baby adverts shortly after miscarriage and someone exploring their sexuality may be presented with ads that disclose their sexual orientation,” he said. 

“Many of the biggest websites have got this right. We’re giving companies who haven’t managed that yet a clear choice: make the changes now, or face the consequences.” 

The ICO is set to provide an update on their efforts in January, disclosing information about companies that have yet to address the concerns raised.  

This initiative is a component of their wider endeavours to safeguard individuals’ rights within the online advertising industry. 


Mind Matters: A REG Technologies Panel Event

In support of Movember, a month dedicated to raising awareness and changing the face of men’s physical and mental health across the globe, REG hosted its much anticipated panel event, Mind Matters, on 14th November, aimed at addressing the challenges men face regarding mental health at work.

Taking place at XCHG Bishopsgate, the event focused on how we can break down the barriers and foster supportive environments where everyone’s mental health is valued.

The event started with a talk form Marketing Manger, Zoë Parsons, who opened the floor stating; “Raising awareness can come in many forms – It’s about acknowledging the struggles, educating each other about the challenges, being allies and implementing strategies and mechanisms to better support the wellbeing of our male colleagues. And we’re holding this event in the hope of doing just that.”

Zoë continued to shed light on some of the mental health struggles faced by men and shared some eye opening statistics:

  • Over 1/2 of male employees experience anxiety and depression,  but in reality this could be many more
  • Work-related stress is noted as a significant contributor to negative mental wellbeing, with 79% of men voicing they frequently experience it
  • Only 1/4 of employees seeking mental health support are male
  • 40% of men won’t discuss their mental health with friends or family, let alone their colleagues
  • UK Government reports that suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under the age of 50 and around 3/4 of deaths from suicides each year are men

“These statistics evidently underscore the urgent need for action, and with work related triggers having a high correlation with mental health, whether they are direct influencers or barriers to seeking help, it’s important we focus on what we can do in the context of the workplace to create inclusive and approachable environments were men both feel supported and encouraged to seek help,” urged Zoe.

She acknowledged that companies and employers have started to address these challenges, with 81% having increased their focus, but insisted that much more work still needs to be done, especially following the advent of COVID, which resulted in 50% of employees reporting a deterioration in their mental wellbeing. Drawing on statistics in the context of the workplace, she shared the following figures:

  • 52% of employees still feel inadequately supported by their employer for their mental well-being. 
  • Even those without mental health conditions have noted feeling unmotivated, flat, anxious or low, with 79% close to burnout
  • Poor mental health is in fact the main cause of sickness in the UK
  • Over 300,000 people leave their job each year as a direct result of negative mental wellbeing.

Commenting on these statistics, Zoë echoed; “There are many factors that influence negative mental wellbeing, whether they are directly linked to work or not. There are also many factors that contribute to people being less reluctant to seek help, and as we’ve seen, this relunctantness to seek help is more prevalent amongst men. But it’s our job to help dispel the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the topic, to empower employees to seek support when needed.”

The floor was then handed over to Charley Fryers, Marketing Executive, who shared the findings of REG’s recent primary research. Prior to the talk, attendees were asked the question; ‘What do you believe are the main reasons men might be reluctant to discuss their mental health?’

Charley noted that there were a number of overriding themes including a fear of seeming weak, embarrassment and judgement, but the most mentioned word was stigma. Charley detailed what stigmas are and explained how they are likely to arise and drew on the consequences of fostering a stigmatised mindset.

“Stigmas segregate people by fostering an “us vs. them” mentality. Those who bear the label of being different often find themselves isolated from the rest of society, resulting in social exclusion and a sense of alienation,” shared Charley.

Factors influencing stigmas were noted as:

  • Misunderstanding and lack of education, which can worsen stereotypes or fear
  • Media representations often sensationalise or inaccurately depict mental health conditions leading to misconceptions and stereotypes
  • Historical nature of mental health, from superstitions to the institutionalisation of individuals with mental health illnesses, which has led to the preservation of stereotypes 

Charley concluded by urging how a lot of the responses to the question could fall into stigmas, such as weakness, embarrassment and judgment, which show how stigmas have created a barrier to seeking help. “With studies suggesting that ‘one out of every two people in the world will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime’, it’s time we stop associating words like these with men’s mental health,” she stated.

Following the topic introduction, the panel discussion commenced. Panellists included; Mark Russell, Performance Coach at Mark Russell Coaching, Ra-Venne Scholar, Senior Analyst at Goldman Sachs and Andrew Walker, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Manager at Ardonagh Advisory. 

The panel were asked an array of questions from how can we start to break the aforementioned barriers down, how as employers can we implement strategies to better support the wellbeing of our staff and as colleagues, how can we create safe spaces to encourage our peers to seek help when needed.

The panel delivered some thought provoking discussions that resonated a lot with the audience members in the room.

Andrew, who is a trained mental health first aider, explained the importance of having approachable team members trained specifically in mental health first aid, who are available to staff who may be struggling and can provide a safe space for sharing worries or concerns. Andrew insisted having an extensive group of these individuals in his organisation has had significant benefits for overall staff wellbeing, and ensures employees have resources accessible to them to ensure they don’t face the struggle alone.

A standout point from the panel, when asked what employers can do to better support the mental wellbeing of their staff, was Andrew’s comment on understanding the difference between empathy vs sympathy. Andrew voiced how “actually just a change of words can impact how a conversation is had…you might unnaturally be shutting [people] down without realising… never in an empathic conversation should you say ‘well at least’.”

Another interesting perspective came from Ra-Venne Scholar, who spoke about the impact of accountability. Ra-Venne shared how recognising you are struggling and then taking proactive steps to release external pressures, whether that would be through work allocation or sharing this with your manager, is one of the first steps to minimising negative repercussions. He also stated how employers who accommodate for flexible working habits are ensuring they create environments where staff feel supported at work.

Finally, Mark Russell shared some useful insight into how as colleagues we can be more considerate and understanding of our peers. Mark asserted that taking the time out to listen and be there for coworkers goes a long way, and understanding people’s different behavioural styles is also key when trying to offer support to colleagues that may be showing signs of struggling.

At REG we are proud we are able to host events like this to combat issues relating to diversity and inclusion in the market. Watch the full discussion here.

Stay tuned for our next market panel event and let’s keep the conversation going, so we ensure everyone’s mental health is valued, not just throughout Movember, but always.

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