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Pass master of the review

“Extensive collaboration among the UK&#39s life offices” is not a phrase you hear uttered every day in the world of financial services.

Many may be keen to make such claims but win-win situations within the industry are usually about as common as an English cricket victory in an Ashes series.

Occasionally, however, an industrywide initiative takes place which manage to combine successfully both of the above notions.

A good example of this is Pension Advisers&#39 Support System Limited – Pass.

For the past five years, this Sheffield company has come to be regarded by many, smaller IFAs as something of a beacon of light amid the gloom that has become the long-running saga known as the pension review.

Thankfully, the end of the review is now in sight. Had it not been for Pass, however, such a situation might not have been the case for many smaller IFA firms.

For five years, thousands of IFAs have benefited from the assistance given by Pass in one form or another. Many advisers now refer in glowing terms to Pass&#39s ability to provide quality advice, effective communication and reassurance as they have struggled to deal with the extra workloads that the wide-scale review has placed on their businesses.

Pass was created in 1998 after consultation among members of the IFA Life Office Group, a working party which falls under the auspices of the Association of British Insurers.

From its conception to its creation, the idea behind Pass has been unique. Sponsoring life offices recognised the importance of being able to provide an array of personalised, support services to smaller IFAs in their battle to overcome the extra workloads which the pension review had brought. Both Pass and Ilog have been keen to chant the mantra of a win-win scenario and the extent to which benefits have permeated across all interested parties.

To the consumer, it has offered improved accuracy and speedier turn-round time for redress/compensation.

To the IFA, it offers economies of scale and provides smaller firms with high-quality support from a range of leading industry companies.

It has helped life offices sustain an important distribution channel to both life offices and consumers.

To the regulator, it means helping them understand IFAs when formulating guidance and policy.

With impartiality on its side, many of the services that Pass has provided have been based on simple principles.

Communicating in plain English what needed to be done, to what standard and to what deadline has been the key to ensuring that IFAs tackle their review workloads efficiently. Such advice, coupled with advanced and in-depth calculations where relevant, has also placed advisers in an improved position to deal with the ongoing rigours of operating in the UK&#39s financial services arena.

Sponsors have already contributed around £27m to the operation of the support services for IFAs which have manifested themselves in several ways at Pass.

The Pass helpdesk, for example, was usually the first port of call for IFAs with review enquiries. Over the past few years, this free service has enabled over 3,000 IFAs to register with Pass and has provided high-quality assistance in helping IFAs meet regulatory standards.

The helpdesk has also helped IFAs prepare their case files for Pass&#39s loss calculation service.

This comprehensive service covered every stage of the process, ensuring that complex actuarial calculations determining whether or not investors had suffered any loss were carried out to the required standards.

One of the features of being a Pass member has been the access to pass-online.com. This internet-based service has received 250,000 visits since launch. It has provided registered members with regular email reminders on key dates and access to comprehensive review guidance specially prepared for IFAs.

The Pass healthcheck service has been developed to help IFAs to complete their pension review tasks.

The healthcheck service acts as a gateway, providing access to specialist consultants who are skilled in assessing an IFA&#39s understanding of the review process, as well as outlining the quality of work which needs to be undertaken. An impressive 2,100 pension review healthchecks have been completed by Pass with IFA firms in recent years and about 100 FSAVC checks since the addition of the review of top-up pensions in 2000.

An extension to the healthcheck service has been the workshops and surgeries that Pass conducted around the UK.

In addition to the FSAVC reviewers&#39 scheme library of information which has been built up for use by firms involved in the review process, another key area within Pass which warrants a mention is its loans arm which has been set up as a separate division within the organisation.

Pass Loans was created in 1999 and effectively provided a loan fund, guaranteed by the life office spon- sors of Pass. Pass Loans has received applications for loans of over £50m. This means that around 5,000 investors will have been compensated by December 2003 as a direct result of payments from the loan scheme.

Another key role that Pass has played over the past five years is in its ability to build relationships with key regulatory bodies such as the FSA.

Acting in a pivotal capacity, Pass has been able to reflect the concerns and needs of its IFA members to the regulatory authorities, creating a more useful working relationship between the two parties.

Pass&#39s mission statement has been: “To assist smaller FSA-regulated IFAs to complete their pension and FSAVC reviews to a satisfactory standard.”

With all the above, it is very rewarding to say that not only has the original aim been achieved but it has also been completed with a substantial amount of cross-company support from the life office sector. It is against this background of mission achieved that Pass services are being brought to successful conclusion.

That must be something of an unusual occurrence at any time within the financial services industry.

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