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INDEPENDENT VIEW

It should be the bonanza of all times but, with such apathy in the market, it makes you wonder whether the end of the tax year might be a damp squib.

There are so many opportunities for us to do heaps of business but perhaps there is too much choice.

First, there is the end of the current Isa season and start of the next. Isas have proved to be a hit with investors so you would think they would be filling their boots before it is too late. The difficulty is, however, deciding whether to invest in the stockmarket, corporate bonds or place the money in cash.

With Iraq being bombed again, Prime Minister Tony Blair looking to call a general election and corporate America releasing profit warnings on a regular basis, there is every reason to sit on your hands when it comes to making an investment decision.

April 6 sees new Pep rules come into play which more or less bring them in line with Isas. This is a golden opportunity for reorganising Pep portfolios and perhaps putting them under the umbrella of one plan manager in order to advise and monitor the portfolio properly.

The restrictions on single-company Peps are also being lifted to allow these to be merged with general Peps, providing a much bigger pool of money to manage. Again, it is far from simple to decide whether to utilise the fund supermarkets or provide a much wider selection of stocks and shares, cash and gilts as well as funds for investors.

As if Isas and Peps were not enough, we also have stakeholder pensions coming on to the scene. The Government is determined that stakeholder will be a success and, therefore, it cannot be ignored.

Life is complicated because, for many IFAs and insurance companies, there appears to be not enough margin in the product to make it worthwhile selling. It is a major dilemma because, without doubt, the costeffectiveness of stakeholder makes it a must for best advice.

There are still more opportunities with the ending of the ability to carry forward pension contributions from previous years and set them off against the current year&#39s income. This arrangement ceases at April 5, so careful planning is going to be necessary to ensure clients maximise their personal pension contributions and get the maximum possible tax relief.

Venture capital trusts are now very much part of the tax-planning scene. This year, we are seeing more VCTs than ever coming on to the market, looking to attract those who are prepared to invest in smaller companies for long-term capital growth. They will benefit from some significant tax concessions.

Despite the volatile markets of late, there are still people who may wish to defer capital gains tax by making an investment into a VCT. They will also benefit from an income tax rebate on this investment. The ability to invest £100,000 before and £100,000 after April 5 ensures there could be some chunky investments for IFAs to advise on. I very much like the innovation of specialist VCTs such as healthcare and media.

Financial planning does not only revolve around strategies to avoid tax and, for those IFAs with investment portfolios to manage, we now have hedge funds appearing on the scene. Until now, these have been the preserve of the institutions or very wealthy investors but companies such as Deutsche Bank and HSBC are bringing them to the smaller client. They can even be put in Isas in some cases.

Tax savings, new investments and reorganisations of portfolios are all ingredients for bumper trading. Poor markets and lack of investor confidence are obstacles to overcome. This is where IFAs can earn their money.

There is already a rule called Kiss (keep it simple, stupid) but perhaps IFAs should adopt a new rule known as Kic (keep it complicated) because at least that way we can convince clients we are adding value and perhaps are just (but only just) entitled to some commission or fees in return.

Stephen Lansdown is managing director of Hargreaves Lansdown

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