A Slightly Braver Mutual New World!

The FCA soft-launched a new Mutuals Society Portal a month ago, announcing it publicly on the 16th January. Given how much we have moaned about the limitations of the Mutuals Section over the years, the FCA asked if CCF would like to try out their new Portal before the full launch. On the face it of it, this is welcome news.

Some of you will remember the Register of Friendly Societies, the original Registrar for registered credit unions, building societies, friendly and registered societies and all things coop (including industrial and provident, and co-operative societies and community benefit societies). That’s a mouthful!

In 2001, the responsibility for Register passed to the FCA (FSA) and the Mutuals Section was born. In reality this was an office move rather than a root and branch overhaul of the way things ran. Paper based searches were still done by phone, by cheque and by post and you could always pop in to their London offices and search their records yourself had you the time or inclination. A digitally savvy Companies House they were not!

However, things did change for the better with the Register being put online. This allowed anyone to establish whether a society existed, along with other details including their registered office address, registration documents, annual returns and accounts, charges, and rules of a society. Despite this they still do not maintain a register of directors.

So, alongside the online Register they now have an online portal for mutual societies to submit forms, such as:

  • Annual return and accounts
  • Change of registered office
  • Change of financial year
  • Change of name
  • Recording a charge
  • Rule amendments
  • Exemption from group accounts
  • New registrations

Their aim is to make it easier and more convenient for Coops and Societies to engage with the FCA. You need to register your individual organisation and then you will be able to perform the tasks set out above. As a result, they say that forms should be more intuitive, and more streamlined to your society. We’ll give it a go and let you know.

Coops UK have long lobbied the FCA to try and bring the Mutuals Section up to the same standard of online functionality and value for money as Companies House. In that sense, this is the correct direction of travel and a move to be welcomed.

That said, my initial euphoria that they had significantly developed the digital side of the Public Register quickly subsided as I realised this new development would only apply to something I did once a year, that of submitting the annual return and accounts.

My feeling is that they have gone for the low hanging fruit on this one – it is the Public Register that urgently needs digitally upgrading to create a more level playing field with private businesses on Companies House.

Nevertheless, it is a step forward for the FCA and we’ll let you know how we get on!

– Alain Demontoux, Operations and FCA Compliance Manager