FCA consults further on pension transfer advice

Robin Nimmo, Strategic Insight Manager at Royal London, considers the latest FCA consultation paper on pension transfer advice.

On Monday 26 March the FCA published CP18/7, a further consultation on improving the quality of pension transfer advice, alongside its much awaited response PS18/6 to the previous consultation Advising on Pension Transfers.

Let’s look at what is contained in this latest consultation:

Qualification standards

The FCA has proposed that:

  • A Pension Transfer Specialist (PTS) must hold the Level 4 qualification for advising on investments before they can advise on or check pension transfer advice.  This seems logical as the PTS needs to be able to identify whether a proposed investment solution is consistent with the client’s needs and objectives for the proposed transfer.
  • Existing PTSs must obtain the investment qualification, if they don’t already hold it, before October 2020 to continue practising pension transfer advice after that date.  This reflects the increased expectations on PTSs nowadays, but it is likely to result in some existing PTSs exiting pension transfer advice in the run up to that date.
  • The exam qualification standards for PTSs are updated to take account of pension developments since the introduction of the pension freedoms.  New PTSs need to be fully aware of the current pension landscape and rules applying to transfers.
Two advice model

New guidance has been proposed by the FCA to make clear its expectations where one adviser advises on the transfer and another adviser advises on the proposed investments.

They expect both advisers to work together to:

  • Collect the necessary information to inform both the pension transfer advice and associated investment advice.
  • Undertake risk profiling which assesses both the client’s attitude to transfer risk and attitude to investment risk.
  • Recognise that the investment advice should take into account the impact of the loss of any safeguarded benefits on the client’s ability to take on investment risk.

Firms who use such advice models should ensure that robust arrangements and processes are in place, so that the roles, responsibilities and liabilities of the different advisers are clear.  Clients also need to be clear on each adviser’s role in the process.

Triage services

Many advisers operate a triage service as part of their defined benefit transfer advice process.  Customers are provided with sufficient information about safeguarded and flexible benefits to enable them to make a decision about whether to take advice on the transfer.

The FCA has reminded firms that if the triage is to be a non-advised service, it needs to be limited to the provision of generic, balanced information on the advantages and disadvantages of pension transfers.  The firm should avoid commenting at the triage stage on whether the customer should consider a transfer based on their personal circumstances.

Client’s attitude to transfer risk

New guidance has been proposed by the FCA on what firms should consider when assessing a client’s attitude and understanding to giving up safeguarded benefits for flexible benefits.

They should take into account:

  • The risks and benefits of staying in the safeguarded benefit scheme.
  • The risks and benefits of transferring to a flexible benefit scheme.
  • The client’s attitude to certainty of income throughout retirement.
  • Whether the client is likely to access flexible benefits in an unplanned way and the impact of that on the sustainability of their income over time.
  • The client’s attitude to any restrictions on their ability to access retirement benefits in a safeguarded benefits scheme.
  • The client’s attitude to and experience of managing investments themselves or paying for them to be managed in a flexible benefits scheme.

The above considerations are obvious, but it is difficult to see how advisers and clients can take into account the likelihood of accessing unplanned retirement savings in flexible benefits.  Most clients will not know whether or not they may need to access their retirement savings.

Destination of client’s transfer

The pension transfer advice must take account of the proposed destination of the client’s transfer. In assessing the suitability of the transfer, the PTS needs to:

  • Review the proposed scheme and investments relative to the client’s attitude to both transfer and investment risk.
  • Ensure that all relevant charges and the potential returns for the proposed scheme and investments have been taken into account in the Appropriate Pension Transfer Analysis.
  • Consider whether there are alternative solutions that could meet the client’s needs and objectives instead of the transfer.
Suitability reports

The FCA has proposed that firms provide clients with a suitability report regardless of the outcome of the advice.  Firms currently don’t need to provide a suitability report when the recommendation is not to transfer.

The FCA also proposes that clients are provided with an advice confirmation for all recommendations.  Some firms don’t currently provide an advice confirmation for a negative recommendation, thereby preventing such clients from transferring.

These are positive changes.  It is important clients understand why it may not be in their best interests to transfer.  Providing the advice confirmation on a recommendation not to transfer allows the client to transfer if they still want to proceed on an insistent client basis.

Contingent charging

The FCA is concerned about the potential consumer harm that may occur when contingent charging structures are used in pension transfer advice.  These concerns stem from the cross subsidies and conflicts of interest in such models, particularly where a firm’s contingent charging structure is dependent on a certain proportion of clients transferring.  Such charging models came to the forefront with the British Steel scheme.

The FCA is considering whether it is necessary to intervene in the way in which charges are levied for pension transfer advice.  They are wary of banning contingent charging due to the impact a ban may have on the way in which different adviser models operate in practice and the implications on the ability of consumers to access advice, but this needs to be balanced against the risk of unsuitable advice being provided to clients.

At this stage, the FCA is collecting views on restricting the way in which pension transfer advice can be charged and the impact this would have on consumers and firms, but it is difficult to see how they can prevent potential consumer harm from occurring other than through a ban on contingent charging.

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