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ScotEq&#39s roadshows cutthrough the clouds

It was a bleak November day down in deepest, darkest West Sussex. The sky looked threatening as the clouds gathered.

Nestling in the bungalowed suburbia around Gat wick is the Cop thorne Hotel, a venue teetering on the edge of the poor-taste side of a Toby Inn. Add to this scene olfactory abuse in the form of odours suspiciously reminiscent of a three-day-old carvery lingering in the warren-like corridors of the Copthorne and the stage is set for Scot tish Equitable&#39s IFA pension roadshow 2000.

Despite the less than salubrious surroundings, 80-odd IFAs braved the weather to see Scottish Equitable pensions development director Stewart Ritchie and pensions development manager Steven Cameron strut their pension stuff.

Ritchie kicked off by quoting from the Actuary Mag azine on pension-sharing and divorce. It was not the most encouraging of openers but, as the chairman of the Com mittee of Actuaries, the indiscretion was overlooked.

The audience, unpert urbed, looked on as the dyn amic duo set off on the CPD trail which would take them through state pensions and contracting out, stakeholder pensions, the new integrated defined-contribution regime, pension-sharing on divorce and the minimum income guarantee.

This is what the IFAs had come to hear and, one hour into the presentation, not a single seasonal cough or sneeze had punctuated the rapt silence. All that changed, however, when Cameron tur ned his attentions to exemptions from stakeholder.

There was a sudden flurry of notepaper and frantic scrabbling for pens as the gaggle (what is the collective noun for a group of IFAs?) started to take notes in earnest.

Pencils went into overdrive taking down the news that if an employer offers to pay 3 per cent of basic pay in return for the employee paying in 3 per cent into a suitable GPP, then he is exempt from offering stakeholder, even if no employee takes him up on the offer. If he goes further and offers employees a range of alternatives, such as 2 per cent for 2 per cent or 4 per cent for 4 per cent, then this should be seen by everyone concerned, including the DSS, as a good thing.

There is no question of this invalidating the stakeholder exemption.

Scottish Equitable reassured the gathering that it had repeatedly checked with the DSS that this was indeed the case.

During the course of the morning, the Government came in for repeated attack, not least on opening up the market to so-called cherry-picking on stakeholder.

On the MIG and pension credits, Ritchie commended the rise to 60p in the £ – being as it is a lot better than 0p in the £ – but he said a question mark remains over whether it is enough to encourage low earners to invest in a stakeholder as opposed to other options open to them, including Isas.

Ritchie further slated Gov ernment policy by highlighting the Achilles heel in Chancellor Gor don Brown and Alastair Darling&#39s tinkering with the basic state pension, saying hundreds of thousands of eligible pensioners had not applied because of means testing.

Ritchie summed up by saying: “This Government pays lip service to the idea of pension simplification. Do not look at their lips, look at what they are doing.”

The feedback questionnaires completed at the end of each session reflected on the whole the feeling that it was a very difficult subject handled very well by Ritchie and Cameron. Others said colourful slides added some “well judged humour to a difficult subject matter”.

But there were grumbles that smaller workshops and more time for questions would have been appreciated, as would more specialised work on the practical application of pension-sharing. ScotEq says this would be picked up in the branch workshops to which all IFAs who attend the roadshows are invited.

ScotEq has so far held 11 roadshows in this series and has presented to just over 1,200 IFAs. With four presentations to go, Ritchie and Cameron anticipate that at the end of the series they will have presented to around 1,700 IFAs.

Add this to the pension roadshows held in the spring and it brings the total up to around 3,700 IFAs who will have had the ScotEq experience this year.

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