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MICK McATEER

Being catapulted to sup er star status among the IFA industry does not sit comfortably on the shoulders of a quiet man from Northern Ireland. But Con sumer&#39s Asso ciation sen ior policy adviser Mick McAteer has become the cham pion of IFAs united against FSA and Treasury proposals to axe polarisation.

McAteer says: “We cannot understand the rationale for the FSA&#39s recommendations or the arguments put forward to support them. Polarisation is not perfect – it can be imp-ro ved – but the principle of transparency is a very important one. The introduction of hybrid advisers will cause further confusion to consumers, which will lead to bad advice and poor deals.”

The first stage of the proposals, due to be implemented next April, will allow stakeholder pensions and Cat-standard Isas to be sold on a multitied basis. The second round of change will look at full-scale depolarisation.

Is there any chance of saving it? McAteer thinks so.

“It is not too late. It is still at consultation stage. We will continue to campaign vigorou sly and make our views are very strongly known. We hope the FSA will listen to our arguments and the potential damage can be contained.

“But there is a real concern that if the first tier goes smoo thly, the FSA will use it as an excuse to roll out multi-ties across the industry.”

McAteer is convinced of the con sumer need for independent advice. “IFAs have an important role in the future and we have been enc ouraged by the eff orts of their own trade bodies, which continue to raise standards and make the industry more professio nal,” he says.

His work involves detailed research of the financial servi ces industry, which has shown IFAs consistently give the best advice to consumers.

The CA has compiled a hierarchy of the quality of financial advice which puts fee-based advice in top place, followed by commission-based advice. Tied advice and direct salesforces are placed at the bottom.

McAteer may champion the cause of IFAs but strictly on the basis of the benefits that independent advice and polarisation bring to the consumer. He will not shy away from taking the industry to task, especially the insurance giants, when consu mer interests are at stake.

He says: “Who has really been paying for the pension review? Policyholders. It speaks volumes for the way the industry has treated consumers. They do an awful deed in the first instance and, instead of paying for it on the bottom line, they use policyholders&#39 money to foot the bill.”

The CA is also backing Axa policyholders in their court case to claim a bigger distribution of the life office&#39s orphan assets.

McAteer says: “This case is particularly galling at a time when millions of people are being asked to increase pre miums on mortgage endowments. Orphan assets can be used to enhance bonuses for policyholders and limit the damage of end owment shortfalls.”

F ocusing on endowment shortfalls, McAteer says the CA disagrees with the FSA over its calculation methods and wants more information to be made available.

“We do not want a full-scale review but we do think the FSA has been complacent and a lot more could be done to target the companies which are in the risk category. The FSA pro gress report understates the situation. More research needs to be published.”

The CA approached the FSA a year ago to request information about which companies were looking at their orphan assets and which had the big gest number of endowment shortfalls. The FSA refused to make the facts available.

Freedom of information is a major concern to McAteer. He says: “We could not persuade the Treasury that this information is in the public interest, which overrides any commercial sensitivity. Freedom of information is of fundamental importance to the consumer. It underpins the ability of organisations like ourselves to do our job. Our mission is to help people make informed choices – to do that we need access to information.”

McAteer came to the CA seven years ago after a long stint in the financial services industry. He spent five years at Framlington and Hender son in London as a stockmarket analyst looking speci fically at pension funds, before returning to his home town of Londonderry where he became an adviser to small businesses.

Returning to London, he began his career at the CA writing for its financial consumer magazines. The team would also produce consultation documents and policy documents for the Govern ment. When the two areas were split, McAteer moved to the policy and cam paigning arm.

With his background in the industry, joining the CA was a poacher turning gamekeeper. McAteer is enjoying being on the consu mer side of the fence. “It is very demanding and incredibly challenging. We are working on iss ues that are fundamental to consumers&#39 financial well-being and are one of the few organisations that does genuinely help.”

As a resident of Hackney in London, one of his personal projects is setting up a credit union to help counter some of the economic and social problems faced by people living in the area.

McAteer may have to be pushed into the limelight on a personal level but is certainly not sitting patiently in the wings when it come to campaigning.

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