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COB 3.14 The internet and other electronic media

COB 3.14.1G

This section contains guidance on the use of the internet and other electronic media to communicate financial promotions. Firms are also referred to the guidance in COB 1.8 (Application to electronic media).

Approach and general guidance

COB 3.14.2G

Any material which meets the definition of a financial promotion, including any video or moving image material incorporated in any website containing a financial promotion, should comply with the rules in this chapter. See PERG 8.1.22G4 (The Internet) for further guidance on financial promotions on the internet, including the treatment of hyperlinks and banners.1

COB 3.14.3G

As indicated in COB 3.5.4 G for the purposes of the financial promotion rules, there are two types of approach to financial promotions communicated via the internet and other electronic media:

  1. (1)

    real time financial promotions where the communication is in the form, for example, of a telephone conversation or other form of interactive dialogue; and

  2. (2)

    non-real time financial promotions, where the recipient may, for example, choose from reading a description of an investment or service, through to the completion of a contract via a direct offer financial promotion in a similar way to browsing through a leaflet rack. The rules in this chapter relating to hard copy financial promotions such as advertisements in magazines or newspapers apply equally to such promotions.

E-mails, material displayed on a website and sound and television broadcasts are non-real time financial promotions (see COB 3.5.5 R).

COB 3.14.4G
  1. (1)

    Before using the internet, digital or any other form of interactive television or other electronic media to promote its services a firm should refer to legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990, as well as to this chapter.

  2. (2)

    When designing websites and other electronic media, firms should be aware of the difficulties that can arise when reproducing certain colours and printing certain types of text. These difficulties could cause problems with the presentation and retrieval of required information. Any financial promotion communicated by the internet, digital or other forms of interactive television is subject to the requirements set out in COB 3.6 to COB 3.9 as applicable.

Specific guidance

COB 3.14.5G
  1. (1)

    Key features, simplified prospectus, 3initial disclosure document and written contractual terms2

    1. (a)

      To meet the requirements of COB 3.9.10 R, a firm should make it clear that the information is available to a recipient of the direct offer financial promotion, and easily obtainable, before any application is made.

    2. (b)

      It is important that recipients should have the opportunity to view the full text of the relevant key features, simplified prospectus, 3initial disclosure document, terms and conditions, customer agreement and any other applicable risk information required by the rules.2

    3. (c)

      This can be achieved through the use of a hypertext link, as long as it is not hidden away in the body of the text where a recipient could miss it when browsing through the pages.

    4. (d)

      Local printing of information by the user should be allowed, where feasible. Firms should endeavour to provide hard copy on request.

  2. (2)

    Application forms

    1. (a)

      It is not necessary for access to an application form to be denied until the recipient has read key features or the simplified prospectus, 3and other contractual terms, but firms should ensure that on the application form, or in the preceding text, they draw attention to the existence of this material and the importance of reading it, as relevant business will be conducted on the basis of the key features or simplified prospectus, 3and written contractual terms.

    2. (b)

      A financial promotion may be a direct offer financial promotion even if the firm is unable to provide a copy of the application form electronically.

  3. (3)

    ExemptionsCOB 3.2.3A R (Application: what?: Exemptions) and COB 3.3.1 R (Territorial scope) contain exemptions from this chapter which depend on a particular financial promotion being made or directed only at certain persons. COB 3.5.6 R sets out the meaning of "made" and "directed at" in this context. COB 3.5.7 R and COB 3.3.6 R (respectively) set out various conditions relevant for determining whether a financial promotion will be regarded as directed only at such persons.

  4. (4)

    Unregulated collective investment schemes A firm which communicates an invitation or inducement to participate in an unregulated collective investment scheme by means of a website it may take advantage of the exemptions in COB 3 Annex 5 R. But if it does so, it must in accordance with that annex design the website to reduce, as far as possible, the risk of participation by persons to whom the invitation or inducement may not be promoted (as described in COB 3.11). COB 3.5.7 R sets out various conditions relevant for determining whether that test is satisfied.

  5. (5)

    The FSA websiteThe FSA's website contains a wide range of information including pages of specific relevance to customers. Firms may, if they wish, include a reference or hyperlink to the FSA's site; this will not however, replace any requirements of the financial promotion rules.

  6. (6)

    Record-keeping: continuously updated market informationCOB 3.7.1 R requires a firm to make and retain an adequate record of a non-real time financial promotion. If the non-real time financial promotion includes market information that is updated continuously in line with the relevant market, the record will be adequate without recording that information. But see COB 7.12.9 G and COB 7.12.10 G (Orders received over the Internet) regarding giving a customer access to such information in conjunction with the ability to place a customer order by relying on such information.