A message from our Chair

Incoming Board Chair Catherine Wolthuzein writes about the CPRC’s expanded and exciting remit

At a pivotal point in its history, I’m delighted to join CPRC as Board Chair.

Representing consumers and helping them secure fair outcomes in the marketplace has always been central to my work – at Financial Ombudsman Service in the UK, the Consumers Federation of Australia, or in my current role as Independent Customer Advocate at NAB – which is why I’m passionate about the work the CPRC does.

The expansion of CPRC’s remit to produce high-impact research to drive robust, but considered policy engagement across a broader spectrum of markets is both timely and much needed to drive practice and policy change.

The operations of markets, as we understand them, are undergoing profound changes. With the advent of the digital revolution and the accompanying ‘big data’ phenomenon, we’ve seen an explosion of choice in the goods and services available to consumers, albeit often with a catch.

Businesses now collect unprecedented amounts of information on almost every aspect of our behaviour as consumers, and some probably know more about us than our friends or family.

While some aspects of data collection and consumer profiling can improve our consumer experience – think Netflix and Spotify recommendations – others threaten to risk access, especially for those already at risk of exclusion.

Detailed profiles can be used to offer (or not offer) us products targeted to our individual preferences and maximum willingness to pay, while we lose visibility of the choices and prices the market is offering our neighbouring consumer.

For these reasons, the CPRC team is putting consumer data at the centre of research and policy analysis in 2018. Technology is evolving rapidly, and we need make sure that consumers are sharing in the benefits.

Domestically, we’re also seeing other worrying macroeconomic trends emerging – low wage growth coupled with high costs of living and a tightening credit environment, leading to heightened risk of mortgage stress, housing affordability issues, and devastating social consequences like increasing homelessness.

Meanwhile, the erosion of trust in consumer markets across Europe, the US and Australia continues.

Taking stock and having a renewed focus on improving how the demand side of our markets is operating is critical to sustaining public trust in our institutions, and making markets work better for the consumers whom they are meant to serve.

Central to this is the need for greater transparency to support effective consumer choice.

We need to bridge the gaps and information asymmetries between businesses and consumers about the products and services on offer. We need to bridge the emerging gaps in inequality. And especially, we need to bridge the gaps between commercial practices and community expectations.

It is through evidence-based, high quality research and cross-sectoral engagement through a consumer lens that I believe that the work of the CPRC will be central to driving change.

Working collaboratively across disciplines and sectors is critical in a world where fields of expertise are blending, and technology is moving at a rate faster than regulation can keep pace. This approach is critical to fostering innovative thinking to tackling entrenched and emerging challenges.

It is only by working together that we will be able to deliver on our goal of achieving a fair outcome for all consumers.

It’s my privilege to play a role in guiding the CPRC towards realising this ambition.

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