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Sister act

I have a really good friend who I know very well and would trust with my life. He, too, is a hard working financial adviser, about as honest as the day is long and tries his very best to give his clients good advice and service. In every respect, he treats his customers very fairly indeed.

He is, however, a man with a great weight on his shoulders for he has a guilty secret that wakes him up in a cold sweat at three in the morning. He confided in me to see if I had any suggestions.

About 15 years ago, he was asked by his sister and brother-in-law to arrange an endowment with one of the major life offices, which he happened to work for at the time. Not a problem, he thought. He, too, had just completed a staff mortgage with a compulsory staff endowment. If it was good enough for him, it would be good enough for his sibling, especially as he was kind enough to rebate the commission. Nothing more was said for the next 15 years until at a family get-together, his sister showed him a letter from his now long ago ex-employer.

Apparently, it had written to her about a year before, asking if she wanted to complain about the sale of the endowment (even though it had long ceased to be linked to any of her home-buying efforts). Sensing a bit of a freebie, his sister and her husband replied that they must have been missold to and explained how awful this had all been for them.

You can imagine the rest, can’t you? The errant office wrote back some considerable time later with a cringing apology, offering to compensate them immediately for their loss and current financial hardship. The office stressed that although it was sure the endowment was sold to them in good faith, it was unable to establish the circumstances, so to avoid any further inconvenience, here was a cheque for £8,000.

Well, you can imagine the look on my friend’s face as he bit his tongue. Did his sister not contemplate the possible consequences for her brother? Did it not cross her mind to perhaps tell her brother what they intended to do, just in case it affected him in any way? Clearly not. I suspect that, armed with the promise of a nice compensation cheque, the happy couple just worked the system as best they could, suspecting they might just win, as had been reported in the press so often before.

There are countless other stories of similar fraud being perpetrated against the financial services world. There are plenty of people who would say the industry is merely reaping what it has sowed but surely that is a feeble response, given that there are countless decent people being wronged? Something still needs to change, even now, all these years later.

Tom Kean is director of Thameside

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