Our newest partner Mary talks about joining Flint and the big regulatory issues coming up in 2021

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We interviewed Mary Starks after her first month at Flint to find out more about her previous regulatory experience and what she sees as the main regulatory challenges in 2021.  

Mary joined Flint from Ofgem, where she was Executive Director for Consumers and Markets, leading the regulators’ work on retail markets, innovation, vulnerable consumers and enforcement. Before that she was the Director of Competition and Chief Economist at the FCA where she led work on meeting the FCA’s statutory objective to promote competition in the interest of consumers.

You have made a leap from the regulatory world to Flint, a business advisory – why did you decide to change your career path? 

Mary Starks: I had been a regulator for a long time. I did it in different contexts – two competition authorities (NZ and UK), the FCA and most recently Ofgem. And I enjoyed the work, and got pretty senior. But after 15 years it was feeling a bit same-y; it was time to do something different. Flint is a proper change of scene, with a very different tempo and texture of work – but still with that mix of business, government and academic perspectives that I like. I was a consultant earlier in my career so I knew I’d enjoy advising clients. And I was attracted by Flint being a young and growing company, and by the mix of regulatory, policy and political expertise it offers – it’s a compelling proposition.

What are the main regulatory challenges ahead in 2021?

Mary Starks: Net zero will be a big theme in the run-up to COP26 in November. There are critical decisions ahead for energy regulation, and other sectors too. The green finance agenda is maturing fast from aspirations to standards and rules.

There will be a raft of regulatory challenges flowing from both Brexit and covid-19 – with many sectors looking to find their ‘new normal’. Some, such as rail, may need new policy and regulatory settlements. Others may see consolidation, with associated regulatory challenges – I’d expect tough scrutiny of banking transactions.

Competition and regulation in digital services is at a critical moment – developments in the next year or two could shape the operating environment for major platforms and other digital businesses for the next decade and beyond. And I expect other regulatory challenges in the digital space, for example how financial investments are promoted on social media and other platforms.

I’m always interested in consumer issues. The policy and regulatory response to the “loyalty penalty” continues to unfold across multiple sectors – it will impact insurance in a big way in 2021.

And next year should be fascinating for financial market data. (Not everyone’s cup of tea – but if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you really like.) The FCA and IOSCO are asking hard questions about pricing, choice, and market power, while major transactions are reshaping competitive dynamics. That’s a rich mix.

How have you found your first month at Flint?

Mary Starks: It’s been exciting! I’ve been in at the deep end with a fantastic variety of client work. Everyone has been extremely friendly. And I’ve been super-impressed with the variety of backgrounds and experiences people bring to Flint – everything from being an MEP to running racing dogs. That said, it has been weird starting a new job from home, and a real shame not to meet workmates in person yet. That’s a big thing to look forward to in 2021.

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