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Independent View

What fun it can be to look back at the blunders and own goals we all endure.

The most recent clanger involved one of the top mutual life offices. It concerned an executive pension plan we have been looking after for several years. One member decided to increase his contributions following a big pay rise.

As is usual for this scheme, we arranged suitable funding checks to be done which came back giving the all clear. It was only then that we realised the chosen increment was above his 15 per cent limit. So, with a hint of regret and embarrassment, we informed him and the life office, which had not spotted it either. A silly mistake all round really.

We were amazed, two to three days later, to hear back from the life office which confidently told us it was not a problem and that the increment could go ahead. I wondered from which manual they were reading.

Scarcely believing my ears, I asked them to put it in writing. This also gave me a day or so to think hard, as my own conviction was being tested here. Had I missed some vital loophole?

After all, I had a new business head of department telling me that, because he was increasing an existing policy and he had passed the maximum funding check, he was clear to do what he wanted.

Written confirmation arrived a few days later so, with renewed confidence (having made further enquiries to ensure my sanity) I again suggested they were wrong. This time round, I got the desired response – an admission that he was, of course, restricted, like the rest of us, to 15 per cent. Confirmation of that was also requested in writing.

Maybe this sort of mess happens because these organisations do not have the foresight to invest in enough good quality people.

They seem to think it is reasonable to let this sort of thing happen without checking. After all, the buck stops at the IFA these days.

If this riles any life office boss that might be reading, think about this. Fifteen years ago, travel agents had common applications for people to book holidays. These were online, instant and worked. Our profession, on the other hand, cannot even produce a common application form for a personal pension, a generic product.

I reckon life office bosses should go down the pub together one Friday afternoon and just talk. They might then realise how easy it would be to design one application form for all, which would then precipitate further advances such as online procedures. A little bit of foresight would be greatly appreciated.

Applying this foresight thing to our own organisation, a colleague and myself have decided to take AFPC G20 in October, so hearing just this week that AFPC will not form any part of a future benchmark was a little dem-oralising. We console ourselves knowing it will be worth it as our T&C training records have highlighted the need for it.

And finally, we, of course, aim to apply a little fore-sight for the benefit of our clients. The recent flurry of Isa business felt uncomfortably lemming-like. With internet stocks raging, how can people invest in techy Isas with such confidence?

I heard one commentator say the valuation of inter-net stocks are “absurd bey-ond absurd”.

Of course, the techy fund managers will argue theirs are “more robust” and I am sure they are. But it is the herd instinct that will make some people sell at the wrong time, not having understood the long-term assumption needed for volatile funds, even though it was spelt out to them at the time.

The same lemming feel-ing prevails in the residen-tial property market. Twelve years ago, it was “get a place now or you never ever will”. I am starting to hear the same comments.

The difference now, people tell me, is that there is no good reason why prices should fall. Last time it was the loss of double Miras and increased interest rates. Those factors are just not present today, I am led to believe.

Well, haven&#39t we just lost Miras altogether? And who is to say that high interest rates are not around the corner? Some unimaginable world event might happen that none of us can predict which precipitates an increase in interest rates.

Given enough time, however, what goes around comes around. But it is not having enough time that causes the problem.

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