The Financial Conduct Authority has slapped a unit of Credit Suisse and the Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) with millions of pounds worth of fines for failing to ensure that the promotion of a key financial product was clear, fair and not misleading.
Britain's regulator confirmed in a statement that Credit Suisse International (CSI) and YBS were fined £2.4m (€3m, $4m) and £1.4m respectively for failing to fairly promote the 'Cliquet Product'.
"It is crucial that firms consider the needs of their customers from the time that products are being designed through to their marketing and sale," said Tracey McDermott, FCA's director of enforcement and financial crime.
"The information provided to customers forms an important part of this. Financial promotions are often the primary source of information for consumers and in this case CSI and YBS let their customers down badly. These promotions were a serious breach of the requirement to be clear, fair and not misleading.
"CSI and YBS knew that the chances of receiving the maximum return were close to zero but they nevertheless highlighted this as a key promotional feature of the product. This was unacceptable."
Both CSI and YBS received a 30% discount on their fine after they decided to settle early.
What is the Cliquet Product and What Went Wrong?
The FCA said that the Cliquet Product was designed by CSI to "provide capital protection and a guaranteed minimum return with the apparent potential for significantly more if the FTSE 100 performed consistently well."
The probability of achieving only the minimum return was 40-50% and the probability of achieving the maximum return was close to 0%.
However, the regulator said that despite this CSI's and YBS's financial promotions marketed the potential maximum return on the product as a key promotional feature.
"The target market for the Cliquet Product was described by CSI as "stepping stone customers" who were conservative and risk averse," said the watchdog in its statement.
"The product was typically sold to unsophisticated investors with limited investment experience and knowledge through a number of distributors. 83,777 customers invested a total of £797,380,716 in the product; with YBS being the distributor responsible for approximately 75% of the total amount invested.
"The maximum return figure was given undue prominence in both CSI's product brochures for the Cliquet Product, which YBS approved and provided to their clients, and in YBS's own financial promotions for the product, some of which also did not clearly explain how returns were calculated."
The FCA said that concerns were first raised by independent third parties, including Which?, in 2010.