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Scottish Widows stakes its claim on pension market

Perdisatt says: "The offer of external fund links within the overall one per cent cap on charges is a good feature. The plan also has good supporting product literature and I applaud its clarity."

Turning to the other side of the coin and looking at the shortcomings of the plan, the panel is split, with Pack unable to identify any at all. Pickard says: "There are not many disadvantages to the product, although the fact that the product is starting later than some others means that its systems development is behind. As an example there are some facilities not available until the third quarter."

Perdisatt says: "The product literature states that the product is based ‘heavily’ on technology and I have concerns that much of the target audience is not geared up for this – are they willing to accept traditional transaction methods?"

Evaluating the range of options available, Pack says: "The external funds on offer are a good option, but their choice is not the best on the market."

Pickard says: "There is a good range of options, but frankly more external fund links would help."

Perdisatt says: "The options contain nothing brilliant, although the choice of default fund (consensus) may prove of value for a typical stakeholder investor. As for the external fund links, I suggest that only time will tell if this is enough of a differentiation for the average stakeholder client."

Looking at the flexibility that the plan offers, Pickard says: "It is very good, and the literature highlights it very well indeed," while Pack says: "The flexibility required by stakeholder is met by Scottish Widows with this product, and should meet a clients needs."

Perdisatt says: "The flexibility offered is reasonable. The fund choice is okay, although I note that other providers are offering some form of a with profits scheme. There is also too much emphasis on the Internet and technology. Significant independent research indicates that this may be problematic, at least initially."

Moving on to the reputation of Scottish Widows, Pickard says: "Its reputation is very good, although even companies with good reputations may find their administrative systems strained if demand is high. This will be a test for all stakeholder providers."

Perdisatt says: "Scottish Widows has a reputation of being financially sound. However its reputation has been tarnished somewhat by issues relating to demutualising, and I know of one network member who is far from happy with the way that his clients affairs have been handled in this respect. Its lacklustre ‘corporate’ type response leads me to question the companies commitment to IFAs."

Pack adds: "Scottish Widows was very good in the past, but it has lost some of its appeal with the takeover of Lloyds/TSB."

Examining the past performance record of Scottish Widows, the panel are yet again split. Pickard is alone when he says that: "Its past performance has been fairly good, depending, of course, on the fund that you look at."

Pack comments: "Performance was very good in the past, but the company has lost one or two fund managers and as a result performance has suffered. It has also been lumbered with Lloyds/TSB funds."

Perdisatt says: "Performance has been mediocre in the recent past. I felt that the introduction of the consensus fund was mainly due to poor performance of the existing managed fund. I now feel that the introduction of external fund links is really a response to under-performance, rather than a case of adding choice and flexibility."

Scrutinising the market for possible competitors to the product, Pack and Perdisatt point to group personal pensions from Axa, Standard Life, Norwich Union, Scottish Life and Prudential.

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