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Self-cert victory for exemptions

The Government has bowed to industry pres-sure by allowing employers to self-certify that their pension schemes meets the exemption test for personal accounts.

Money Marketing’s Time to Get Personal campaign has been pushing for the Government to lift the administrative burden on employers to prove that they have good workplace schemes in order to prevent mass levelling down when personal accounts come into force in 2012.

In an amendment to the Pensions Bill tabled by Lord McKenzie of Luton last week, the Government said it is willing to allow employers to self-certify that contribution levels in their existing schemes are above the minimum qualifying level of 8 per cent of qualifying earnings, which would exempt them from personal accounts.

Pensions minister Rosie Winterton says: “For our ref-orms to work it is vital that wherever we can we make them simple and straightforward for employers to implement.”

The Association of British Insurers was concerned about the wording of the amendment, which still required employers to cer- tify that “each individual” employee would receive contributions over the minimal level.

The Government quickly changed the wording of the amendment to refer to certifying for “jobholders” in general rather than every individual. This move was welcomed by the ABI but it says that it would still prefer it if the clause was dropped altogether.

Conservative shadow pensions minister Nigel Waterson says: “It is a step in the right direction but we will need to look at the detail of the regulations. The test should be simple, cheap and easy to apply, otherwise it will encourage levelling down.

“My colleagues in the House of Lords will be probing the detail of the proposal. It has to be a broad-brush approach that takes the scheme as a whole rather than on an individual basis.” MY BEAUTIFUL WRAPPhil CainIn August 2006, my business partner John and myself decided to take the plunge and leave the safety of a private bank and set up our own high-net-worth wealth management business.

This was a big step but we left with our heads held high and a determination to operate on the principle that if we looked after our customers, they would look after us.

Having previously worked as IFAs for a private bank whose core business was that assets were under management via their own nominee service, the concept of wrap felt second nature to both of us in our new venture.

Having experienced this, we knew it was an efficient way of running assets and the key to delivering our service principle.

We sat down and set our wish list – avoid the potential trap of commission by ensuring that we controlled our own remuneration, set a fee for purchasing assets and a recurring fee for looking after said assets, open architecture structure, the ability to purchase assets at net asset value, provide immediate view of mutual funds, Isas, pension assets and shares, the ability to record and value other investments such as National Savings certificates, bank deposits, holiday homes and bonds, and finally to provide clients with the ability to view this any time anywhere in the world, thereby providing a window on all their assets.

At the outset, the business had strengths and weaknesses, it was being set up from scratch and therefore had no legacy issues but no existing client base and therefore it was vital we got it right.

We could not afford to upset a client so off we went, speaking to a number of firms, Transact, Cofunds, Selestia, Norwich Union, Funds Network and Standard Life.

Having looked at the offerings, it was decided that we would go with Standard Life. Yes, their wrap was relatively new but then so were we. It met our criteria and seemed like a safe pair of hands.

The Standard Life team seemed genuinely interested in listening to us and developing together. We grew our assets under management and developed our offering and so did they.

We took on staff and Standard Life provided the wrap training.

For us, the main strength of a wrap is the efficiency it brings – one application form pre-filled, no matter how many different mutual funds chosen, the ability to identify all clients with a particular asset or fund and to be able to dispose of it with the press of a button. Consolidated reports and dividend vouchers and the ability to provide limited cash holdings which can be used for further purchases or transfer these to a nominated client bank account on the same day if a client needs urgent funds.

The clients have definitely got the concept. The ability to have a diversified portfolio of asset classes and investment houses but held in one place.

This, in conjunction with our service proposition, has led to referrals and further growth. If you see the analogy of running client assets as a car then the wrap is the engine.

If it runs smoothly, then all is well, if it is spluttering, you are in trouble and it can make or break your service proposition. My advice is embrace the technology but choose carefully and one that fits your own criteria.

Phil Cain is director of CDC Wealth Management


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