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Pension transfer system is buckling under the strain

Natalie Holt, journalist with Money Marketing Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

There are a lot of things the previous government did not think about when it conjured up the concept of pensions freedom and choice. One of these, clearly, is how the new reality would play out for members of defined benefit schemes. In the same vein, presumably the powers that be did not give much thought as to how their actions would open the floodgates on the demand for DB transfer advice.

It has been left to advisers to deal with the fallout, trying to manage the constant stream of transfer requests while always having an eye to future liability.

Advisers are grappling with how best to serve clients in this highly charged environment. Should they devote time to training and qualifications to keep pension transfers in-house, or should they outsource to specialists? What due diligence should be carried out on the firms they are referring to?

The surge in DB transfer advice has not gone unnoticed by the FCA, and rumours are circling that the regulator is planning a thematic review in the not too distant future.

There have been a raft of high profile missives from the FCA of late concerning pension transfers. We have had some guidance on what good looks like, though this was followed by a warning notice relating to the suitability of 500 DB transfers worth £12.7m. Advice firm deVere has also been tasked with carrying out a past business review of its pension transfer advice.

At the moment, these reviews relate to historic issues. But the worry is as demand and business volumes grow, there is a risk we are only storing up more problems for the future.

The picture that is emerging is of a system under strain, with the potential for firms to take shortcuts as a result. The market is shifting, and as specialists pull up the drawbridge on new business, providers are only too happy to step in. Cynics suggest this is less about virtue and more about a targeted asset grab.

The lure of DB transfers is set to grow stronger among clients given the Government’s recent green paper on DB funding and the accompanying political and public scrutiny DB schemes are under right now.

Fundamentally, if the transfer market is not working, it would be better to establish this now, to highlight where reasons to transfer have been clearly evidenced and where firms are going wrong. Now is not the time for the FCA
to be silent on this.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing – follow her on Twitter here

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Comments

There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. If the FCA instigate a thematic review when demand for advice is at it’s highest, the natural consequence is for many transfer specialists to walk away, just when more are needed. A big stick is not what is needed, just consistency in terms of rules and guidance so that advisers, FCA and FOS are all on the same page.

    This is as a result of constant meddling by politicians, seeing pensions as cash cows , rather than vehicles for building secure long term retirement income. If we bow to our political masters the FCA and FOS will crucify us later on, if we refuse to participate we are being unhelpful and obstructive, stopping members from taking control of their own money.

    It is a matter for personal choice, I believe I have the necessary experience and judgement to make safe DB transfer decisions within a robust process, I may be right or wrong, and can understand why there may be a shortage of advisers and PI insurers willing to accept the risk.

  2. Nigel Chambers 3rd March 2017 at 3:19 pm

    I agree with Natalie and Geoff but what concerns me is that a major issue seems to have been missed from the Green paper as there is little or no mention of the effect that Pension Freedoms can have both in terms of additional, attractive options for members and because if members transfer out to take those options, the long term finances of the scheme will improve.
    It has long been known that members do not appreciate the true value of a defined benefit pension. For example, there are millions of members who were in such schemes for only a short time. A pension of £2,000 a year is not life changing but access to a pot of £50,000, or more, at retirement could change people’s retirement experience significantly. Too few members are aware of this, and many of the parties involved – Trustees, Scheme Operators, and particularly the FCA still actively discourage transfers. A more even playing field is needed.

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