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Crossed line for stakeholder

The Occupational Pensions Advisory Service&#39s helpline to guide consumers through stakeholder pensions is getting a mixed reception from the industry.

The helpline will be manned by “trained experts” to talk consumers through stakeholder material provided by the Government and the FSA.

The initiative is faced with one obstacle straight away. It was supposed to be launched in conjunction with an “all you need to know” handbook and decision trees but neither of these has been issued yet. Opas chief executive Malcolm McLean is hoping they will be out later this month but no launch date has been announced yet.

The DSS expects the line will play a major role in educating the public ahead of stakeholder&#39s launch in April 2001.

This is where the concern about the helpline lies. McLean says the operators will not be providing specific financial advice but surely most customer enquiries will demand advice.

RJ Temple regional managing director of corporate division David Dresner Barnes says if the operators can only give generic information, what are they going to do when someone asks them a question requiring a detailed answer?

Consumers having difficulties with decision trees are likely to need personalised responses which are best answered by a professional adviser who has gone through a detailed fact-find.

Dresner Barnes says: “Decision trees will cause untold confusion as they raise more questions than they answer and they are the kind of questions that need advice. This service is not going far enough. The people phoning it will be expecting advice so it needs rethinking and doing properly. The concept of a helpline should be promoted but it should be a qualified adviser who gives the advice as the question the operators come up against will require advice.”

The helpline may be prev ented from giving advice but Opas has tried to recruit staff with wide industry knowledge. Mc Clean says the manager and three of the main ope-rators are all from the pension industry.

Scottish Equitable pension development manager Steven Cameron believes this is a good start as they will be able to oversee other operators. He says: “Pension professionals can step in if an enquiry becomes too complex and can make sure that no one oversteps the mark by giving advice.”

However, the fact that the rest of the operators are graduates who have undergone a “crash pensions training course” lasting five weeks adds a disturbing twist.

Torquil Clark pensions development manager Tom McPhail says: “The whole adviser issue revolving around stakeholder is rapidly descending into something of a farce.

“A helpline is a good idea in principle but I am concerned that in the context of stakeholder they might find it delivers more problems than solutions.”

A lot of people are only going to get half-answers from decision trees and if the helpline cannot provide solutions will people be prepared to pay for advice?

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