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Let the good times roll

It’s not very often that good news grabs the headlines, especially in regulation, but this week has seen a string of coups for advisers.

The FSA has finalised its fee rates for 2008/09 and the welcome news is that they have remained largely at the same level as those proposed in February’s consultation paper on fees and levies.

Three fee-blocks have even seen a reduction including fund managers, operators, trustees and depositaries of collective investment schemes and firms dealing as principal.

But February’s paper saw the FSA increase fees for small adviser firms by up to 12 per cent on last year.

The minimum levy for a category A13 financial adviser employing one approved person has increased from £1,650 to £1,850. But another category A13 firm with 26 APs will see its levy rise by just 4 per cent to around £25,600.

However small firms will see a fall in Financial Services Compensation Scheme levies due to the new FSCS funding structure introduced in April.

A system of credits offered to smaller firms means an A13 adviser with one approved person should see its FSCS levy fall 83 per cent from £1,284 to less than £220.

Financial Ombudsman Service levies for small advisory firms have not increased. A category A13 sole trader will see its FOS levy remain at £50, while firms with 26 APs will see an increase of 11 per cent to £1,300.

The FSA says the combined effect of the FSA, FSCS and FOS levies on the industry will be an increase of around 2.5 per cent.

FSA finance director Martin Walton says: “We are pleased that firms’ fee rates are either the same as or lower than those proposed in the consultation. However, we recognise that our planned expenditure for 2008/09 will be higher than in the previous year ­ this reflects the programme of activity set out in our business plan.”

More joy came to advisers when the Financial Ombudsman Service announced in its annual review last week that complaints against advisers have plummeted, while for banks they have soared.

Advisers saw complaints fall from 12 to just 4 per cent in the last year, linked to a sharp decrease in complaints about mortgage endowments, which fell by 70 per cent from 46,134 to 13,778.

But it was the revelation that the number of banking disputes has more than tripled in 12 months that had IFAs rubbing their hands together with glee.

Complaints about banks’ charges on current accounts have increased 10-fold, due to the current legal test case in the High Court involving the Office of Fair Trading and eight current account providers.

FOS chairman Sir Christopher Kelly says the ombudsman was hoping for an overall reduction in case numbers but the economic climate has led to a record number of new complaints.

He says: “The sudden surges in banking and insurance disputes this year have meant that predicting, managing and dealing with complaint volumes has been more of a challenge for us organisationally than ever before.”

And on the same day, when advisers didn¹t think it could get any better, the FSA announced that it is considering using league tables of poor service and publishing the number of complaints banks and financial services companies receive.

The regulator says it would publish details of the worst performing companies, including how many complaints had been made, how long they took to resolve and the level of recompense.

The proposals were revealed in a discussion paper on transparency and are part of the FSA’s move towards increasing the amount of information it discloses.

Chief executive Hector Sants says: “We believe that transparency is an important regulatory tool, and as an organisation are committed to being open and transparent.”

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